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A systemic approach A systemic approach to Emily Dickinsons 1400

Introduction Emily Dickinsons poems have been acclaimed all over the world but also considered both difficult and complex to analyze. Harold Bloom (2005:430) tells us that we are always apprentices when we approach a poem by Emily Dickinson mainly due to its authentic difficulty. In spite of such hindrance, the poet manages to arouse our admiration and she undoubtedly creates texts of intense beauty. Susan Howe (1997) wrote: In prose and in poetry she explored the implications of breaking the law just short of breaking off communication with a reader. The inherent complexity of the poems and, at the same time, the pleasure they bring to the mind have challenged many critics and readers to find an explanation to this apparent conflict. Kinnell (1997) claims: In my opinion, she could not have accomplished her great work without making two technical innovations.[] Dickinson's chosen form requires rhymes, which are scarce in English, at frequent intervals [...]Her other innovation protects the density and dissonance of her poems from the singsong latent in common meter. The Academy of American Poets explains that: Emily Dickinson made this same hymn meter--and the emotionally spiritual content of Watts's biblical adaptations--the foundation of her poetic. Moreover, Bloom (2005: 434) wonders what we can do with Dickinsons genius, how we can describe such a whimsical and conceptually original genius. He claims that she surpasses all the other western poets, except Blake and Shakespeare, in cognitive originality. Functional Systemic Grammar provides a sound theoretical frame to account for the complexity and beauty of Emily Dickinsons poems because systemic theory is grounded on the notion that a language is interpreted as networks of interlocking options, of choices of meanings. Discourse analysis based on Systemic Grammar focuses on the understanding of texts and, on a higher level, on interpretation and evaluation of texts. This goal is very much harder to attain. It requires an interpretation not only of the text itself but also of its context (context of situation, of culture), and of the systematic relationship between context and text. (Halliday, 1997: XV) In this paper, the genre of the text, written poetic genre, will be specially considered. For us a genre is a staged, goal-oriented social process. Social because we participate in genres with other people; goal- oriented because we use genres to get things done; staged because it usually takes a few steps to reach our goals. (Martin & Rose, 2003: 7,8) In written poetic genre, Theme analysis and the analysis of Theme progression allow us to observe the flow of information and the accumulation of meanings. Martin (1999) follows Friess assertion that the pattern of Themes constructs a texts method of development and the pattern of News constructs its point. The hyper Theme or topic sentence makes it possible to distinguish the Orientation of a text and its consequent Elaboration.
While hyperThemes predict what each phase of discourse

Regueira, Ins

A systemic approach

will be about, new information accumulates in each clause as the phase unfolds. In written texts in particular, this accumulation of new information is often distilled in a final sentence that thus functions as a hyperNew to the phase.1

My analysis will try to explain Theme development in a poem by Emily Dickinson following Functional Systemic Grammar. The objective is to describe Theme progression and texture taking into consideration the works by J. R. Martin and to provide a description of the distribution of communicative dynamism in the text. Functional Systemic Analysis Emily Dickinsons poems call for an explanation of the unusual strategies used and the originality of her style, so the analysis of the Textual Metafunction seems relevant because: When we look at language from the point of view of the textual metafunction, we are trying to see how speakers construct their messages in a way which makes them fit smoothly into the unfolding language event [] speakers constantly signal to them (listeners) how the present part of their message fits in with other parts. (Thompson, 1997: 117) An attempt to explain Dickinsons poem will be undertaken by observing the construction of Themes, Rheme and the meanings produced and communicated. The Theme is the element which serves as the point of departure of the message. (Halliday, 1997:37) The poem chosen is 1400. It was probably written in 1877 and it has not been often analyzed. 1400 What mystery pervades a well! That water lives so far -A neighbor from another world Residing in a jar Whose limit none have ever seen, But just his lid of glass -Like looking every time you please In an abysss face! The grass does not appear afraid, I often wonder he Can stand so close and look so bold At what is awe to me.

Working with Discourse (Martin & Rose, 2003: 182)

Regueira, Ins Related somehow they may be, The sedge stands next the sea -Where he is floorless And does no timidity betray But nature is a stranger yet; The ones that cite her most Have never passed her haunted house, Nor simplified her ghost. To pity those that know her not Is helped by the regret That those who know her, know her less The nearer her they get. An analysis of Theme and Rheme is presented in the following grid: THEME Textual Interpersonal Experiential Subject (unmarked)

A systemic approach

RHEME Process
A well! So far- a neighbor from another world residing in a jar whose limit none have ever seen, but just his lid of glass-

What a mystery Pervades That water lives

Like looking every time you please in an abysss face! The grass In wonder and Related somehow they The sedge often He Does not Afraid, appear Can stand look May be, stands Next the seawhere he is floorless and does So close So bold at what is awe to me.

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A systemic approach
not betray. timidity




A stranger yet; Her house, haunted

The ones that Have cite her most never passed nor To pity, simplified Those that Is helped know her not

Her ghost. By the regret that those who know her, know her less the nearer her they get.

Thematic progression would be as follows:

Hyper theme T1 T2 (R1) T3 (R2) T4 T5 (T4) T6 (T4) T7 (T2+T4) R3 R4 R5 R6 R1 R2 MYSTERY WATER JAR GRASS GRASS GRASS THEY FEAR CLOSE BOLD RELATED constant parallel progression nature WELL JAR linear progression mystery

T8 T9 (R7) T10 T11 (T10) T12

R7 R8 R9 R10 R11



linear progression

NOT PASSED constant parallel GHOST progression KNOW LESS not know 4

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A systemic approach

It is interesting to appreciate the alternation of linear progression and constant parallel progression. This alternation is broken twice when independent and marked Themes are presented (Related somehow they and To pity those that know her not). These themes introduce the Hyper Themes that derive from the first Hyper Theme: mystery. These Hyper Themes summarize the message of the poem: Nature is a mystery that not even those who approach her get to know. Communicative Dynamism A functional perspective, considers how the different parts of a sentence are organized and in what way dynamism is conveyed. A characteristic of communicative dynamism is that it is expressed linearly. The participants in the Theme do not enable the reader to anticipate the Rheme the poem has, and the New element increases dynamism, the water in the well is presented as a detached and distant neighbor, we learn that grass is courageous and the sedge is not timid. And at the same time, dynamism is also contextual because in the immediate relevant context the Theme does not announce the New information the poem provides. Shared knowledge of the world does not allow for the characteristics that the poem attributes to Nature. Thus, the Rheme is surprising and increases the communicative dynamism. The contextual factor harmonizes with the linear modification, creating a rise in the communicative dynamism. Rhemes in the poem mention feelings: nostalgia, fear, courage, surprise, timidity, fear of the unknown and pity. The emotional weight of the poem is kept for the Rheme, and interpersonal elements appear in the Theme in the form of exclamations and adverbial expressions. The semantic analysis shows that there is a great impact on communication because the semantic content of the verbs does not correspond to the participants. Also, the adverbial complements that here modify the linear pattern have great dynamism because they are unexpected, this is the case of the wonder of the grass and Natures pity. The poem presents a high communicative dynamism because there is interaction among the three factors: semantic content of some verbs, the contextual element and the linear factor. It is important to notice the processes used by Dickinson in this poem as it was already mentioned in the previous analysis of communicative dynamism. Mystery pervades relational process Water- lives relational process Grass- does not appear afraid relational process stand behavioral process

Regueira, Ins look bold relational process Nature-is relational process Ones never passed behavioral process simplify her ghost Those- not know Is helped Those know- get

A systemic approach

mental processes

The Participants that belong to the world of nature, such as the water, the grass, the sedge and nature itself, use mainly relational processes, and only one is a behavioral process. The human Participants, those who know nature and those who do not, those who get close to nature, and both the reader and the poet express mental processes and one behavioral process. Relational processes stand for the permanence of nature, humans watch and admire nature through reason, and this is expressed through mental processes, that is the reason why humans cannot understand nature. Emily Dickinson seems to believe that reason is not the right way to approach nature, the only possibility being through feelings, the world of feelings expressed in the Rheme of the poem. Texture Martin defines texture as
one aspect of the study of coherence, which takes the social context of texture into consideration. The goal of discourse analysis in this tradition is to build a model that places texts in their social contexts and looks comprehensively at the resources which both integrate 2 and situate them.

Within this aspect he includes the study of cohesion as a set of discourse semantic systems. One of these systems is identification (concerned with resources for tracking participants in discourse), another one is conjunction (concerned with resources for connecting messages, via addition, comparison, temporality and causality), and thirdly, the system of ideation (concerned with the semantics of lexical relations as they are deployed to construe institutional activity). (Martin,2003: 38)

Working with Discourse: Meaning beyond the clause. (Martin, and Rose, 2003:35)

Regueira, Ins In the poem, we find: 1: reference chains: A well- that water- abyss The grass-he they

A systemic approach

That water A jar-whose Limit-his The sea-he Nature-her-her-her-her-her-her-her Those-they The ones that Those that Those who 2: conjunctions:
Like looking every time you please in an abysss face! (comparison) And-but-nor Related somehow (comparison) To pity (causality)

3: lexical chains: mystery well-water-jar-abyss-stranger-ghost fear-not afraid- in wonder-bold-awe-floorless-haunted far-close-next less-nearer grass-sedge well-water-abyss far awe to me grass-he not afraid-close-bold sedge-sea next nature-stranger the ones that cite-not passed-haunted house-nor simplified-ghost those that know not-regret those who know-know less A text is coherent as far as its coherence is consistent with its situational context and its register. In this sense we say that the text is inherently coherent and cohesive. The poem analyzed is coherent with its poetic genre by using personifications and metaphors.

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A systemic approach

The poem 1400 presents a coherent texture because it is adequate to its poetic register and shows coherent relations in its ideational, reference and conjunction systems.

Theme and Rhem in a translation to Spanish Henry Weil claims that thinking processes differ from syntax, and consequently word order must be respected over syntactic relations because syntax (functions) represents something that can be perceived and does not change, while the order of words represents the thinking process. The analysis of Theme and Rheme in the Spanish version of the poem translated by Margarita Ardanaz (2004) will show if the interpretations of the poem in its original language can be kept for the translation. 1400 Qu misterio colma un pozo! Pues vive el agua tan lejosUn vecino de otro mundo Que reside en una jarra Cuyo lmite nadie ha visto nunca, Slo su tapa de cristalCmo mirar cada vez que se quiera en el rostro de un abismo! La hierba no parece tener miedo, A veces me pregunto si l Puede permanecer tan cerca y parecer tan osado Ante lo que para m es temor reverencial. De alguna forma pueden estar relacionados El junco junto al mar se encuentraDonde l est sin suelo Y no delata timidez alguna Mas la naturaleza sigue siendo un extrao; Los que la citan ms No han traspasado nunca su mansin hechizada Y no han simplificado su fantasma. Compadecerse de los que la ignoran Se fomenta con el remordimiento De que quien la conoce, la conoce menos Cuanto ms se le acerca.

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A systemic approach

TEMA Textual Interpersonal Experiencial

REMA Sujeto (no Proceso marcado)

Qu misterio Pues colma vive Un pozo! el agua tan lejosUn vecino de otro mundo que reside en una jarra cuyo lmite nadie ha visto nunca, slo su tapa de cristal-

Cmo mirar cada vez que se quiera en el rostro de un abismo! La hierba A veces me No parece pregunto tener miedo,

De alguna forma

si l puede permanecer tan cerca y parecer tan osado ante lo que para m es temor reverencial. pueden estar relacionados,
donde l est sin suelo

El junco junto se

al mar


y no delata timidez alguna

Mas La naturaleza Los que citan ms sigue siendo Un extrao;

la No han nunca su mansin traspasado hechizada

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A systemic approach
No han Su fantasma simplificado Compadecerse se fomenta Con el remordi de los que la miento ignoran de que quien la conoce, la conoce menos cuanto ms se le acerca.

There are differences between the marked subjects in both versions. There is ambiguity in the subject he in the third stanza. Although the message is not changed, the development of Theme is not as clear as in the original version. However, feelings are still placed in the Rheme and communicative dynamism is kept by the semantic factor of the processes. The adverbial expressions do not add dynamism to the linear factor in Ardanazs translation. Conclusions Functional Systemic Grammar can account for the beauty and complexity of the poem 1400 in an organized and methodic way. The study of the thematic function, especially in the original language, highlights the ability of the poet at creating a highly dynamic text and organizing the flux of information through hyper Themes, this approach shows also the rhythm and regularity obtained by the succession of Themes. The selection of the semantic content of the processes, even though it is clearly typical of the metaphoric language of poetic genre, serves the purpose of considering the opposition between reason and feelings as ways of understanding nature. The text is cohesive and coherent with its context of situation and of culture, and the textual meanings provide an order to the message and make it relevant. The use of Functional Systemic Grammar does not invalidate the explanations coming from other fields but its tools help us explain how the selection of themes and their progression construct a text that produces surprise and admiration and the analysis of the textual metafunction shows how the authors vision of the world is built and how her message is organized in the poem.


Regueira, Ins Bibliography Bloom, Harold (2005) Genios . Norma: Bogot.

A systemic approach

Dickinson, Emily (2004) Poemas. Edicin Bilinge de Margarita Ardanaz Ctedra: Madrid Halliday, M. (1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. Segunda Edicin Arnold: London.. Quinta Impresin 1997. Howe, Susan (1997) My Emily Dickinson (excerpts) http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/my-emily.html Kinnell, Galway (1997) Reckless Genius http://www.salon.com/feature/1997/11/cov_03kinnell.html Martin, J. R. (1999) Grace: the logogenesis of freedom in Discourse Studies 1 (1): 29-56 Martin, J. R. y Rose, D. (2003) Working with Discourse: Meaning beyond the clause. Continuum: London and New York Martin, J.R and Rose, D. (2003). Working with Discourse. Continuum. London. The Academy of American Poets - Isaac Watts & Emily Dickinson: Inherited Meter http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5814 Thompson, G. (1996). Introducing Functional Grammar. Arnold: London. Segunda Edicin 1997. Weil, Henri (1844) De lordre des mots dans les langues anciennes comprees aux langues modernas

Acknowledgments To Ann Borsinger who introduced me to Functional Systemic Grammar. To Laura Roseti, Alicia Nerguizian and Marina Fernndez who helped me with invaluable suggestions when editing my work.