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Dickinson’s Senses of Experience

Jefferey Simons

Pages 5 - 25



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

This essay pursues the senses in which Emily Dickinson used the word “experience” as these senses arise in the fifteen poems where the word appears, as a verb, a mass or count noun, or a participle. The essay argues that these senses reveal core meanings in the poet’s vision of existence as rapt and enchanted, perilous and painful, markedly female, set in motion, given to misconstrual, and infused with keen perception. To make this argument, the essay unfolds in four parts. The first part explicates poetic lexicography, the conceptual frame developed. The second part reads “I think I was enchanted” (Fr627), the one Dickinson poem where her speaker says “I […] experience.” Lyric subjectivity in Dickinson’s verse crystallizes in this poem in a striking recollection. This part ends by drawing a continuum along which Dickinson’s senses of experience range and, as in a spectrum of light, shade into one another. The third part reads five other poems that deepen the poet’s senses of what experience is. Finally, the essay argues that as the poet’s senses of experience shade into one another, in single poems and in her oeuvre, they also intertwine in the one braid formed by her ontology and epistemology.

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