Tuesday’s Teaching Memo:My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun -
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified -
And carried Me away -
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -
And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -
And when at Night – Our good Day done -
I guard My Master’s Head -
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared -
To foe of His – I’m deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -
Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without–the power to die–
This is my favorite Emily Dickinson poem to teach because I imagine her, a young recluse poet, envisioning herself in possession of the force and power of a lethal weapon. An extended metaphor, the speaker in this poem is a gun. Not just any gun — “a loaded gun” (1). And although it needs a man to notice it and pick it up to take with him hunting, the gun from that point on speaks with a power that supersedes that of man. I imagine Emily Dickinson, a frail and quiet little woman, staring out her window, and finding her voice, her power through her art — her poetry. Not only does she take up the phallic pen and write as men did, she creates a poetic voice of power that is dangerous, lethal, and deadly. It is her power, her voice, and it is just as empowered as the voices of male writers in her day.
For the first time in her life, she sees herself as a powerful object that “speaks” (7) for man, “guards” (14) him, “hunts” (6) with him, is deadlier than man’s “deadly foe,” (17) and has “the power to kill,/Without – the power to die” (23-24). She transcends the powerlessness, limited, and controlled life of womanhood and transforms herself into a woman with power, voice, volition, and even pride, which were an unattractive traits in women in her day. The power of the speaker in this poem is deadly, loyal, strong, emphatic, and full of pride in its power…all of which I hope Dickinson felt as a writer, if not as a woman. This is the kind of power all women should have – a power equal to that of men — a voice that is just as loud, just as intelligent, and just as important — a voice that is heard and taken with such seriousness that when we speak, “The Mountains straight reply” (8).
I am Woman, Hear me Roar.
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.