Study Questions on Poems by Emily Dickinson

Adapted from various sources by Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Associate Professor of English
Ferrum College

1. What verse forms and rhyme scheme does Dickinson use in many of her poems? What kinds of sounds contribute to unity and rhythm besides ordinary rhymes? What unusual poetic devices does she use in her poems? What is their effect?

2. How does Dickinson approach nature? What elements in nature interest her most? Is she a Romantic in her nature poetry? How are responses to nature and religious feelings linked in some of the poems?

3. What evidence do you find in the poems of faith in God? of doubt? How would you describe the God of her poems? What other religious attitudes are expressed?

4. What is the connection between the poems' expression of religious feeling and attitudes toward death? How is death portrayed (personified) in "Because I could not stop for Death" (32)? How and where does the tone change in the poem?

5. How do the views of death compare in"Because I could not stop for Death" (712), "I heard a Fly buzz" (465), “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (280), “My life had stood” (754) and “My life closed twice before its close—” (1732)?

6. What is the significance of the fly in "I heard a Fly buzz" (465), the bird in “A Bird came down the Walk” (328), and the snake in “A Narrow Fellow” (986)?

7. In “Success Is Counted Sweetest” (67) what kinds of success are illustrated? Why is the host “purple”? How many points of view are present in the last line?

8. Why is the experience in "After great pain" (341) described as "a formal feeling"? Is it about physical or psychological pain? What is the sequence of parts of the body and mind included in the poem? What kinds of crucifixion are present in the poem? [Notes: “He” refers to Christ; “Ought” means nothing or zero.]

9. Is “My life closed twice before its close— ” (1732) about death or about parting? How is parting compared to heaven and hell?

10. What views on the intellect or the soul and society are expressed in "Much Madness is divinest sense" (435) and “The Soul selects her own Society” (303)?

11. What does the progression in “The Heart Asks Pleasure—First (536)” suggest about its possible meaning? What does “Excuse from Pain” mean? What would be an example of one of “those little Anodynes/That deaden suffering”? Who or what is the heart’s “Inquisitor”?

12. What images and key words recur in the poems? What is distinctive about Dickinson's choices of words?

13. Some of Dickinson's poems are written in the spirit of fun, with a light touch; others are satirical. What things or people does she treat playfully?

14. What is the effect of the word “fellow” to describe the snake in “A Narrow Fellow” (986)? How much of the poem is about the movements of the snake, and how much about its effects on the observer? What do the tension and chill of the last lines suggest? Why does the snake cause such a feeling?

15. Why is Dickinson called a confessional poet? Which poems reveal that she was a reclusive person? What feelings about love relationships are expressed in the poems?


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