Mylife had stood-a loaded gunby Emily Dickinson
Mylife had stood-a loaded gun is a poem by Emily Dickinson, it is oneof the most famous of all her poems. She composed this poem at aperiod when she had reached the height of her prowess in poetrywriting. In it, she talks about her inner life in a more ellipticaland subtle way. She has succeeded in employing interplay of emotion,experience, intellect and clarity in a way that brings out the themeof the poem to the reader. It is a short poem of twenty-four lineswhich are divided into six stanzas. It is, written in thefirst-person from the speaker’s point of view. The speaker, usingthe imagery of a gun by speaking through the gun’s voice, tries tocharacterize her power, not as a woman, but as a being capable ofbeing emphatic. Emily has used several elements to illustrate thetheme of the poem. This paper will analyze and explore the theme andhow it derives from the element of symbolism and imagery in the poem.
Emilybegins the poem in a way that symbolizes familiar American scenery- ahunter with a gun, hunting in the woods. The scene then becomes abouta self-divided person. The speaker has both the potential for powerand pleasure but does not have the necessary means to express thatpotential for her sake[ CITATION Dic16 l 1033 ].The theme of power is heavily alluded to in Emily’s poem. Power canbe described asan influence, and it is symbolically represented by the ‘gun’ inline 1. Guns can take away life instantly so in this poem it is asymbol of violence and power. By introducing the reader to the gunas an extended metaphor in line 1, Emily makes sure that the readeris attentive and on edge throughout the poem. A person with a gun issomeone with power over another. In the poem, the speaker strugglesfor control as she serves a more powerful ‘master’ and ‘owner.’This is evidenced in the poem where she says, “I guard My Master’sHead” (14). Just like the gun, which remains inactive until theowner uses it to hunt or as a defense against the ‘foe,` thespeaker seems to be condemned to the same fate. She is uselesswithout her master[ CITATION Dic16 l 1033 ].She compares herself to the loaded gun, which is full of imperiouspower,but without its owner, it is powerless. Its cruel energy ispotentially trapped. The speaker’s life is also stagnant andneglected. She is left to stand at corners waiting for her master. Inline 21-22, she does not even imagine that her owner can somedayabandon her. She says, “Though I than he-may longer live/ He longermust-than I“
Thespeaker uncovers her true self by effectively employing the elementof the gun symbolism. She transgresses feminine limits by sheddingwhat conventional femininity represents. She achieves this by linkingpower and strong will to femininity yet traditionally they arecharacterized as qualities that are masculine. For a woman to expressthese qualities, she may seem to be losing her femininity touch. Sheexpresses all her rage, the desire for vengeance and aggression, justlike a loaded gun[ CITATION Dic16 l 1033 ].She embraces the unacceptable self with pride through her underlyingambiance to the powers that she exercises through her art. Thesepowers include the power to ‘hunt,` ‘guard,` and ‘kill.` Thespeaker in the poem is murderous, she is a gun, capable of killingand her great rage is expressed as part of her true nature, and sheis proud of it. She shows this pride and joy in accomplishing heraggressive and murderous nature by claiming that, “I guard MyMaster’s Head—/‘Tis better than…Deep Pillow—to haveshared—“. (14-16). She aligns herself with disastrous powerinstead of intimacy with her master. This line can also be regardedas the speaker’s way of rejecting the softer aspects of life sincethe only thing that brings her joy and satisfaction is her purpose,control, and power.
Throughoutthe poem, the speaker has used various symbolism and imagery tocapture our attention. The doe and the woods are other aspects ofsymbolism used in the poem. The ‘doe’, which is a female deer ishunted and killed, this is evidenced in the poem where the speakersays that, “And now we hunt the Doe” (6), this represents the19th-century view of female roles. During that time females wereregarded as subordinates to men, and their only purpose was to beused for the pleasure of their masters, owners, or husbands. Thewoods in the poem can be seen as a way through which Emilyestablishes a connection to nature, a standard feature in most of herpoems. This can be seen in the poem where she says, “And now Weroam the sovereign Woods,” (5).
However,the most prominent use of symbolism and imagery is the gun asdiscussed above. The poem uses the gun effectively to express itsmain theme of power. This, however, does not necessarily mean thatpower is the only theme discussed in the poem. There is also thetheme of women’s roles, life and death. However, power and gun arethe best elements by which this poem can be analyzed since they playthe biggest part regarding symbolism and theme. This is wellrepresented in the last two lines which state that “For I have butthe power to kill/ Without-the power to die-” (23-24).
Theimportance of symbolism in the literature is emphasized in this poem.By using one thing to represent another, the writer or speakercreates emotion and meaning by giving the reader a specificperspective. It creates an effect on the reader`s mind, and Emily hassucceeded in doing so in, “My life had stood-a loaded gun.”
Dickinson, Emily. My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun. Penguin Classics, 2016.