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Emily Dickinson Poetry

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes:

Line by Line
The poem describes how someone might feel after suffering great pain or mental anguish. When the
suffering has ceased, the poet says that a formal feeling comes. The word formal suggests rigidity and a lack
of ease. The poets body has lost its vitality and energy and is left feeling numb. The poem describes how this
formal feeling affects different parts of the body. The second line imagines the bodys Nerves sitting stiffly,
perhaps in a church. The word ceremonious may suggest the formal ceremony of a funeral Mass. The
Nerves are also likened to Tombs, thus furthering the notion of death. The Heart is also deadened. It is left
stiff and bewildered, wondering whether it was possible that it endured such pain and is unsure when this
great pain even occurred: was it He, that bore,/ And yesterday, or Centuries before?
The bodys lack of spontaneity, its numbness, is again described in the second verse. The feet move
mechanically, unconcerned about what surface they move upon and oblivious to where they are going. They are
said to go round aimlessly. They could be moving upon Ground, or Air or upon nothing at all or Ought.
They are numb and their way is Wooden, pursued with indifference: Regardless grown. The last line of the
second verse describes a state of mind oblivious to life, yet somewhat at peace, a stony, numb contentment:
A Quartz contentment, like a stone.
This period following great pain is a time of numbness, cold and dark. Dickinson describes it as the
Hour of Lead. She suggests that some people do not survive this traumatic period, and only those who outlive
it can remember it as such. The feeling of those who have come through great pain is finally likened to those
who have frozen in the snow. A person trapped in snow would first feel the Chill before finally becoming
numb from the coldness and losing proper consciousness (the Stupor). In the end, there would be a release,
perhaps a falling into unconsciousness or even death the letting go.
Mental Anguish
The poem is an attempt to communicate to the reader the nature of the experience that comes After
great pain. Though we are never told exactly what the pain was, it is likely some great sorrow or mental
anguish, which has left the mind and body feeling numb. Ironically, the feeling that the poem ultimately
describes is a feeling of numbness, or no feeling at all.
The Effects of Mental Anguish
The poem, therefore, vividly illustrates the devastating physical effects of mental anguish. After Great
Pain describes a body that has been shattered and exhausted by what it has endured. In fact, it is hardly a
whole, integrated body any longer. Instead, what is described is a fragmented body, the individual parts
operating independently, it seems, of one another. The poet personifies the Nerves, Heart and Feet, and
never refers to the body as a whole.
There is a sense in the poem that the individual has broken down or is too dazed and numb to take
effective control of her body. The body is operating without purpose, regardless of any motive or
consequences. Time and space are rendered meaningless. The Heart wonders if it was Yesterday, or
Centuries before that it endured the pain. The feet move without any idea of where they are going or on what
surface they walk. Their movements are mechanical, once again indicating that there is no central agency in
The dominant feeling conveyed in the poem is numbness. The poet uses a series of objects to convey
this lack of feeling. She mentions Tombs, Quartz and Lead, and says that the way she moves is Wooden.
It would seem that the poet neither feels anything nor has any feelings for anything. She is numb both to herself
and the world. In fact, the world hardly seems to exist in the poem. There is just blankness, a white nothingness,
a Wooden way and a blanket of snow.
The poet at one point even describes a form of contentment, albeit a Quartz contentment. She seems
to be somewhat relieved to be feeling nothing, to being numb to the world and oblivious to reality. And yet
there is an implied danger in the situation, a suggestion that it is possible the speaker wont return from this
anaesthetised state. The poems concluding lines describe a form of death, a letting go perhaps of life or of a
sane grasp of the world.
The description of the feeling that comes after great pain is likened to death. The first stanza in
particular uses references to death and the funeral ceremony. The Nerves are said to sit ceremonious, and it
is easy for us to imagine that the poet has a funeral service in mind and that the Nerves are mourners dressed
in black and sitting silently in church. The idea of death is most strongly suggested by the comparison of the
nerves to Tombs.
After Great Pain describes a form of death-in-life. It is almost as if the body is still living but the self,
or controlling agent, behind the body has died. What is left is various parts of the body existing without motive
or reason. The description of the Heart as stiff further develops the notion that some form of death has
occurred. We sometimes refer to a dead body as stiff . It seems, then, that the heart has died, and though it
may still be beating, it no longer cares or feels for what it does. The body has become mechanical and is
compared to cold, dead objects such as Quartz and Lead.

Emily Dickinson Poetry:
A Narrow Fellow in the Grass:
Line by Line

The poem describes the appearance of a snake in grass and the speakers different reactions to the snake.
The speaker tells us that a snake can sometimes be seen moving through the grass. She refers to the snake as A
narrow Fellow, and describes his movement in a very unusual way. She says that it rides through the grass.
She suggests that we may have seen the snake on occasion, and that he appears suddenly, without notice: His
notice sudden is.
As the snake moves through the grass, it divides, or separates, just like hair that is parted with a comb:
The Grass divides as with a Comb. When the grass moves apart, it is possible to see the snake for a moment.
He is spotted and long like a shaft. The grass then closes only to open again further on as the snake
moves away. The snake is said to prefer cool, wet, Boggy ground to warmer land, where corn is grown.
When a child, the speaker would occasionally come across the snake as she walked barefoot through the
fields. She would not immediately recognise it as a snake, thinking it instead a Whip lash that was
Unbraiding in the Sun. She would bend down to pick it up, but it would suddenly coil and shoot off,
disappearing from sight.
The speaker says that she is familiar with a number of creatures, and that they in turn know her. She
feels sincere affection and warm regard for them. However, when it comes to the snake, her feelings are
entirely different. Whether she is by herself or with somebody else, she always feels intensely uncomfortable.
She says that her breathing tightens and she feels Zero at the Bone. The last line of the poem suggests that the
speaker is frozen with fear at the sight of the snake.
The snake is described in such a way that it seems both familiar and very odd. For one thing, the poem
never uses the term snake when referring to the creature. It is referred to as A narrow Fellow and later just
this Fellow. The speaker also refers to the snake generally as he and him rather than it. Its movements are
oddly described. The snake rides through the grass. As some critics suggest, the description is more suited to a
country gentleman out riding his horse.
The opening lines, therefore, humanise the snake but they do not endear it to us. There is something
unsettling about its description. The word narrow is unpleasant and seems to suggest a certain shadiness. The
snake is also elusive, appearing suddenly and then vanishing again. Later in the poem, the speaker mentions
that when a child she would mistake the snake for a Whip lash unweaving in the Sun. In her innocence she
would attempt to pick it up but it would suddenly vanish.
The overall effect is to render nature strange and remote. The speaker admits that her relationship with
the snake is particularly poor. She experiences terrible fear whenever it appears. She has difficulty breathing,
and experiences a certain freezing sensation: And Zero at the Bone. Her attitude to the rest of the natural
world, however, is rather cool and formal. She says that she knows several of Natures People, but that she
feels little more than a transport/ Of cordiality.
The poem, therefore, describes the otherness of nature. It seems to suggest that it is best that we keep
our distance from it. We can inhabit the same land but as cordial neighbours rather than intimate friends. The
poem also suggests that there is a darker and more sinister element to the natural world. The snake does not
allow for even basic cordiality. It remains aloof and uncertain. It is hard to know when it will appear and what it
is likely to do.

Emily Dickinson Poetry
I Felt a Funeral in my Brain:
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The poem begins with a strange declaration: I felt a Funeral, in my Brain. It is hard to comprehend
how someone could feel a funeral. Yet even if we are unsure of what exactly the speaker is experiencing, this
unusual, dramatic statement conveys the fact that something terrible is happening. It suggests intense
psychological suffering and trauma.
The first three stanzas of the poem follow the progression of a funeral, which the speaker says is
occurring in her Brain. In the first stanza, the speaker describes the sensation of the mourners moving
continuously back and forth. Their continuous treading leads her to feel that Sense was breaking through.
This could mean that she felt that she was on the verge of understanding something. But it could also mean that
her Sense, or ability to think rationally, was breaking under the pressure of the mourners feet.
In the second stanza, the mourners have settled down for the funeral service. However, the speakers
mind does not settle. The funeral service sounds to her like a Drum that is being beaten over and over again.
This dull, throbbing noise is overbearing, and the speaker begins to feel that her Mind is going numb.
The third stanza describes the carrying of the coffin to the grave. The speaker says that she could hear
the box, or coffin, being lifted. As the mourners once again begin to move, she hears their boots creak across
her Soul. Once again, the movement is terribly uncomfortable. It is as though the mourners are wearing
Boots of Lead. As the coffin is being borne away, the church bells begin to toll, a signal that the burial is
about to take place.
At this point in the poem the speaker experiences a very strange sensation. She becomes disorientated,
and her world which was already strange and uncomfortable ceases to be in any way normal. The ringing of
the church bell eventually becomes so intense that it seems to fill up the entire sky: all the Heavens were a
bell. At the same time, all that exists becomes an Ear to receive this sound. But it seems that the poet is no
longer part of this surreal world dominated by the intense ringing of the bell. She has landed in some strange
other world where she exists with Silence, broken and alone.
But just as she is feeling detached and isolated in this strange place, something breaks within her mind
and she feels herself plunge down, and down through different worlds until suddenly, it seems, she loses all
consciousness: And Finished knowing then . Like a number of Dickinson poems, I Felt a Funeral ends
abruptly, and we are left unsure about what might follow.
The last line of the poem can be read in different ways. We might understand it to mean that the speaker
plummeted down and then finished knowing that is, she lost consciousness or died and ceased being able to
know anything. Alternatively, the then at the end of the poem could hint at something to follow. The poet lost
consciousness and then something else happened, which the poet is unable to relate to us because she is no
longer in control of her faculties.
At the heart of the poem is the funeral metaphor. Comparing her inner suffering to a funeral allows the
poet to effectively convey to the reader her inner suffering. The idea of being confined within a coffin and
being conscious is a truly horrific notion.
The poet develops the funeral metaphor throughout the first three stanzas. The various stages of the
funeral service correspond with the development of her breakdown. She uses imagery from the funeral service
initially to describe the intense discomfort she is experiencing. The build-up to the burial ultimately brings us to
the point where the speaker loses touch with reality and finally breaks.
The image of the mourners treading across her head-wearing Boots of Lead conveys the mounting
pressure within her head. The comparison of the service to a Drum that is beaten over and over again also
effectively illustrates this. In both instances the poet uses repetition to convey the monotony and strain she is
The poem also uses very surreal imagery. The Bell that grows until it fills the Heavens is a bizarre
image, and yet it effectively relates the climax of her psychological suffering, the moment when it becomes
almost unbearable and something must give way. The surreal image of the enormous Ear representing all
existence, though very strange, is also very evocative. The third stanza ultimately creates a terrifying world, so
remote from reality and a place that conveys the horror and isolation that the speaker must endure as her mind
Mental anguish
We can read the poem as a description of mental collapse or a descent into madness. The poem moves
from some level of Sense to a complete collapse in Reason. The first half of the poem, though odd and
difficult to comprehend, is somewhat rational. The notion that somebody is feeling a funeral in their head is
certainly strange, but the conventions and rituals of the funeral are familiar and follow a logical sequence. The
speaker even says in the first stanza that it seemed/ That Sense was breaking through, a possible suggestion
that she was on the brink of understanding what was happening to her.
However, the second half of the poem is surreal and there is little logic to the description of events. The
speaker no longer has any proper sense of space, and what she can sense around her seems horribly distorted.
The Bell that has been ringing appears now to have filled the Heavens, and all of existence has become an
Ear. This bizarre description of the world suggests that the speaker is rapidly losing touch with reality and
sliding into insanity. The Bell is drowning out all other sounds and sensations, preventing any possibility of
rational thought.
The point in the poem where the speaker sits alongside Silence, seemingly in another world altogether,
is the point where she has completely broken down. She has broken away from reality, and the terrible torment
that she was suffering in the first three stanzas seems to have come to an end. There is a numbness to this part
of the poem, an icy silence that Dickinson so often describes in her poems. The torment may be over, the
horrible sounds in her head.
This poem documents terrible mental suffering. In his poem the speaker appears constricted and
helpless. She is helplessly brought to the edge of reason like a coffin being carried the grave. All the while she
must suffer her fate like one who is being buried alive. What is most distressing about the poem is the speakers
awareness of the fact that she is suffering some catastrophic breakdown and is unable to do anything to stop it.

Emily Dickinson Poetry
I heard a Fly Buzz When I Died:
Line by Line
As the speaker lay dying, her room was oddly quiet. She compares this quietness to the stillness that can
sometimes be experienced at the very centre of a storm. The Stillness in the Room/ Was like the stillness in the
Air / Between the Heaves of Storm . The room had been noisy as the speaker suffered on her deathbed. It
would be noisy again as she experienced her final death throes. But for a few moments it was filled with
quietness. As the speaker lay dying, her room was oddly quiet.
The speakers loved ones were gathered around her. She says that they had wrung their eyes dry from
crying, the way one wrings moisture from a towel: The Eyes around had wrung them dry . They had cried
till they could cry no more. Her loved ones held their breaths, waiting for the last Onset, or attack of the
speakers illness, when she would finally pass away.
The speaker signed her last will and testament, assigning, her various valuables to her loved ones. Yet
there is one aspect, or portion, of the speaker that is not assignable, that she cannot simply give to whoever
she wants. This is her immortal soul, the ultimate destiny over which she has no control.
As the speaker finally passed away, her sense of vision began to stop working and the room seemed to
fill with darkness. To her it seemed that the windows failed that they were suddenly incapable of performing
their function. They could no longer let light into the room.
The speaker says that as she died, a fly interposed itself between her and the light. The image of a fly
positioning itself between the speaker and the light is a puzzling one. There are several possible interpretations:
As the speaker passes away, her sight begins to fail and her field of vision narrows to a little tunnel. A fly
floats into this reduced field of vision. It is the last thing the speaker sees before she dies and darkness
engulfs her completely. Its buzzing, meanwhile, is the last thing she hears.
The speaker is hallucinating. As the speaker lay on her deathbed, a fly was stumbling around and buzzing
in the corner of the room. As she finally passed away, her vision flooded with blackness. In the speakers
confused mind these two events became mixed up, and she imagined that a giant fly was blocking out the
Sound Effects
Assonance occurs in line 12 with its repeated i sound (interposed a fly) and in line 13 with its
repeated u sound (Blue uncertain, stumbling Buzz). The phrase Heaves of Storm, meanwhile, has an
interesting onomatopoeic quality, echoing the sound of blowing wind. Repetition is used effectively in stanzas
3 and 4: the speaker mechanically lists the stages of her collapse, and then And then and then,
presenting them as part of a relentless, unstoppable process.
Metaphor and Simile
Dickinson uses a fine simile to describe the momentary quietness in the room when the speaker is granted a
brief respite from her suffering. The quietness, she says, is like that at the eye of a hurricane, the very centre
of a storm. This simile deftly captures the tense atmosphere of dread and expectancy that exists around the
Dickinson uses a wonderful metaphor to describe the speakers vision failing as she descends into death,
declaring that the Windows failed. As the speaker passed away, everything went dark and it seemed that the
windows failed were suddenly unable to perform their function of letting light into the room. It is also
possible that Dickinson has the speakers eyes in mind here. The speakers eyes, often referred to as the
windows of the soul, fail as death envelops her: and then/ I could not see to see.
Mental & physical anguish
I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died joins other Dickinson poems in depicting an interlude during
suffering and an aftermath. Stanza 2 depicts a moment of Stillness between two bouts of suffering
The poem movingly depicts the process of dying. The last stanza in particular powerfully portrays a
mind dissolving or disintegrating as life leaves it. There is something powerful about the repetition of and
then in this stanza as the speaker mechanically lists the relentless stages of her mental collapse. As she passes
away, her vision fails. It is arguable that her sense of logic fails as well, and that she confuses the fly buzzing in
the corner of the room with the blackness that floods her vision.
The poem also emphasises the indignity of the speakers passing. The speaker has prepared for death,
she has made her will and gathered her family around her. The moment of her demise is intended to be the
solemn climax of a life well lived. The last thing she hears, however, is not the soothing words of her family but
the buzzing of a fly. The last thing she sees is not the faces of her loved ones but a fly floating in front of her.
The speakers last experience in this world is a miserable and insignificant insect stumbling as it buzzes
around the room.
In I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died, as in many of her poems, Dickinson seems to have little hope of
life after death. The poem doesnt explicitly state that there is no afterlife. And yet when the speakers vision
fades to black at the end of the poem, we are left with the distinct impression that the poet feels this black
oblivion is all there is, that no afterlife awaits her.
This poem presents a mocking view of religion. The speaker and loved ones are anxiously waiting for the
King to be witnessed in the room. They seem to believe that as the speaker dies, Jesus, the king of Heaven,
will appear and carry his loyal subjects soul, the part of her that is un-assignable, to Paradise. Yet these
expectations are not borne out. At the moment of the speakers death, there is no sign of Jesus. Nor is there any
indication that the speaker is bound for Paradise. The poem pokes fun at these religious expectations by means
of a crushing anticlimax. The last thing the speaker witnesses is not the glorious arrival of the King but the
uncertain buzzing of a stumbling fly.
The Fly as a personification of Death:
It is possible to interpret the fly as a symbol, or personification, of death. (Flies, of course, are often associated
with disease, death and decay.) Just as we often personify death as a black-cloaked #gure with a scythe, here it
could be argued that Dickinson personifies death as a giant fly blocking out the light of this world. In one sense,
the idea of death as a fly waiting to claim each of us at the end of our lives is unpleasant and disturbing.
However, the fact that the fly is described as uncertain and stumbling makes this personification of death
rather less menacing, suggesting, perhaps, that death is not something to be terrified of after all.

Emily Dickinson Poetry
I taste a Liquor Never Brewed
Background & Introduction
I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed is one of Dickinsons happiest and most playful nature poems. The poem
makes most sense if we imagine it being spoken from the point of view of a bird that goes reeling through the
meadows on a summers day, sipping nectar from various flowers. Several critics have suggested that
Dickinson had a hummingbird in mind because these birds drink nectar from flowers. The hummingbird was a
creature that had a special significance for Dickinson, so much so that she referred to herself as the
hummingbird in several of her letters
Line by Line
The bird travels through fields on endless summer days. As it does so, it becomes intoxicated. Three
different substances contribute to this intoxication:
It is made drunk by sipping the nectar from wild flowers.
It is made drunk by sipping the dew that gathers on the grasses: Debauchee of Dew.
It is made drunk by inhaling the fresh summer air: Inebriate of Air am I
For the hummingbird, these substances function like liquor, making it so drunk that it reels
through the meadows. (The verb to reel suggests jerky, erratic movement, the type of motion one might
associate with a drunk person.) Of course, these substances were never brewed like any conventional alcohol
beverage. Yet to the hummingbird they are more intoxicating than any beer produced in the famous breweries
of the Rhineland: Not all the Vats upon the Rhine/ Yield such an Alcohol!
Bees and butterflies also sip the nectar from wild flowers. When the bees get too drunk on nectar, they
are ejected from the flowers the way a drunk person might be ejected from a bar: When landlords turn the
drunken Bee/ Out of the Foxgloves door; butterflies will renounce or give up nectar the way an alcoholic
might swear off alcohol. Yet even when the bees and butterflies have stopped drinking this intoxicating
substance the hummingbird will continue to do so: I shall but drink the more!
The bird vows to go on drinking this nectar until it dies. On its death it will be welcomed into heaven by
saints and angels. Heaven is depicted almost as a city where the saints run to the windows of their houses to see
a bird entering Paradise. The angels (Seraphs) will swing their snowy Hats, throwing them into the air to
celebrate the arrival of this little Tippler (the intoxicated poet).
Dickinson uses a final memorable metaphor to describe herself in heaven. The bird, she says, will be
Leaning against the Sun . The image of the bird being in physical contact with the sun suggests the intense,
perhaps almost unbearable, brightness of Christs presence, a presence the bird will experience in Paradise. The
fact that the bird is leaning suggests that it is tired after its busy life, and welcomes the rest the afterlife will
provide. It leans the way a farmer might lean against a fence after a long days work.
Tankards scooped in Pearl
In line 2 Dickinson mentions tankards that have been scooped or shaped out of pearl. Some readers
think Dickinson has white pearly clouds in mind here. Intoxicating dew spills from the clouds the way beer
might pour from a tankard. It is also possible that Dickinson was thinking of white flowers. Just as Tankards
contain beer, the flowers contain nectar. They are portrayed as being made from pearl in order to reflect their
intense, virginal whiteness.
Poetic Form

I taste a Liquor never brewed uses a form common to most of Dickinsons poetry. It has four-line
stanzas and an ABAB rhyme scheme. It is written in ballad metre, which means there are four stresses in the
first and third line of each stanza, and three stresses in the second and fourth line. Fittingly, for a poem that
celebrates intoxicated states, the verse is fast-paced, reeling from one line to the next.
Assonane and Alliteration
Like many of Dickinsons poems, I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed makes wide use of assonance and
alliteration. Assonance, in particular, is responsible for creating a pleasant, euphonious musical e"ect suited to a
poem of celebration. The repeated e sound in endless summer, and the repeated o sounds in Out of the
Foxgloves Door, for instance, generate a soothing music. Alliteration is also deployed extensively. We see it in
phrases such as Debauchee of dew and Seraphs swing their snowy Hats, with their repeated s and d
sounds. Several other phrases in the poem have a jingling, euphonious quality for example, Inebriate of Air
and little Tippler.
This poem contains several unusual metaphors. In stanza 1, as we have seen, white flowers are described as
Tankards, or drinking glasses. This is because like drinking glasses they contain an intoxicating substance
(nectar, which is intoxicating to the hummingbird).
In stanza 2, flowers are compared to inns, or pubs, once again because they are filled with intoxicating
nectar. This metaphor of the flower as pub is reinforced in stanza 3, where the speaker depicts
a bee, drunk on nectar, being ejected from a flower by its landlord, just as a drunk might be forcibly ejected
from a bar by its owner.
A celebration of nature
This poem celebrates the splendours of the natural world: the birds, bees, butterflies and flowers that delight us
on endless summer days. The poem can be read as suggesting that, like the hummingbird, we should be
capable of getting high on nature. We should be so open to the beauty of the natural world that it intoxicates
us the same way liquor does. This poem portrays an enjoyment of nature that is wild, manic and intoxicated.
This is suggested in particular by the image of the bird reeling through the meadow. Perhaps there is something
a little unhealthy about this hyper response to the natural world, as if it was the manic flip side to the numb
depression Dickinson describes in many of her poems
The poem, as we have seen, depicts the afterlife as a welcome rest in a welcoming city, where saints and angels
celebrate the arrival of each new soul. This positive and light hearted depiction of the afterlife contrasts sharply
with many of Dickinsons other poems that deal with dying.
The poems conclusion provides a memorable
depiction of the afterlife. The speaker is welcomed into Heaven by saints and angels that celebrate her arrival.
The speaker is in the presence of the King, which, as we have seen, is generally taken to be Christ himself.
I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed seems to present a positive view of religion. The poem expresses faith in the
afterlife as a joyful and carefree city of rest, where the saints and angels wait to greet us. I Taste a Liquor
Never Brewed is slightly mocking toward religion. It has been suggested that there is something faintly
ridiculous or over the top about the speakers depiction of Heaven as a place where saints run to windows and
angels throw their hats into the air. Perhaps Dickinson is poking fun at those who believe Heaven is a real place
where the departed wait for them.

Emily Dickinson Poetry
The Soul has Bandaged Moments:
Line by Line
Moments of Horror
The first two verses describe times of great horror when the Soul, or spirit, is overcome by fear and
unable to act. These are Bandaged moments. The word Bandaged suggests damage or injury. It also
suggests constriction we might think of someone wrapped up in bandages unable to move freely, and,
therefore, weakened and vulnerable. At these times the Soul is so full of dread and fear that it is unable to
move: too appalled to stir.
I n these vulnerable times the soul is visited by some horrible being that takes advantage of her, some
ghastly Fright or Goblin. This dreadful figure stands before the soul and observes her. It greets her with long
fingers and caresses her freezing hair. It then kisses her on the lips.
The Goblins actions are vulgar, and the very idea of what it does appals the speaker. The Goblins
uninvited advances are contrasted with those of the Lover. The lips that the Goblin kisses are the same lips
that the Lover lingered over respectfully from a distance, probably too shy to kiss. In contrast, the Goblin sips
from them unceremoniously. This aggressive sexual act is considered an affront or insult to a fairer Theme,
perhaps the notion of romantic love.
Moments of Joy
Verses 3 and 4 deal with times when the soul is ecstatically free and joyful. These are moments of
Escape, when it is uninhibited and unrestricted. No doors can contain the soul when it is in such a mood:
bursting all the doors. It is free to roam far and wide, and dances and swings upon the Hours. That it swings
upon the Hours suggests that it is playful and unconcerned with time.
The soul is compared in such instances to the honey bee who, after a long time kept away from his
Rose, flies ecstatically to the flower. In its freedom and ability to touch the flower, the bee is transported to
some Paradise.
The Horror Returns
However, the ecstasy is short-lived. The poem finishes with the soul once again being overcome with
despair. Dickinson likens the return of depression to the recapturing of a criminal. The soul is like some Felon
who has been caught and chained, and is being led back to prison.
The soul is also likened to a bird in the closing lines of the poem. It is said to have plumed, or
feathered, feet and there is a reference to its Song. Both the souls feet and Song have been severely
restricted. Its feet have been shackled and staples now prevent it from singing: And staples in the Song. The
soul is led back to where Horror is waiting once again for her. These terrible moments are not spoken of
loudly. This might be because they are too terrible to relate. Or perhaps the speaker is too ashamed to speak
about the mental suffering that she must endure.
Mental Anguish
The poem describes moments of great fear and anguish. Dickinson illustrates how the Soul, or psyche,
can be overwhelmed by fear. At such moments a person feels vulnerable and is unable to act. The poets
description of the Soul having bandaged moments perfectly captures this vulnerability that accompanies
mental anguish.
This vulnerability is captured in the strange encounter between the Soul and the Goblin, or ghastly
fright. The Goblins unwelcome advances are met with no resistance, and he seems to take advantage of the
Souls weakness. What the encounter illustrates is the ease with which fear and uncertainty can overcome us
when we are already feeling low.

Numbness and Constraint
Like a number of Dickinson poems dealing with mental anguish, The Soul Has Bandaged Moments
describes an icy numbness, a lack of vitality, that often accompanies times of fear and grief. The Soul is
unable to stir because of fear. Her hair is described as freezing, a strange description, yet a term that calls to
mind the description of Freezing persons in After Great Pain a Formal feeling Comes.
Dickinson also describes feeling constrained, and likens her mental suffering to being taken prisoner.
She compares her plight to that of the honeybee Long Dungeoned from his Rose. This idea of being captured
and locked away in a cell illustrates the powerlessness of the speaker when it comes to her despair. The poem
suggests that at any moment the speaker can be overpowered by fear. Her moments of joy are brief periods of
Escape from the prison of despair. As such, even when she is happy the speaker lives with the constant threat
of recapture.
Manic Depression
With its description of ecstatic highs and terrible lows, the poem seems to illustrate some form of manic
depression. The speaker seems to fluctuate between extremes. There is something dangerous, almost manic,
about her happiness. She says that when she escapes from her fears, she dances like a Bomb. This unusual
description of dancing suggests recklessness a lack of control. Similarly, the description of the bee that
reaches its rose and then knows no more/ But Noon, and Paradise could easily be read as a description of
great intoxication.
Love, Sex and Guilt
It is possible to read the poem as a description of pains and pleasures of love. The bandaged Soul might
represent someone who is tender and wounded after a failed relationship. The Goblin might represent someone
who takes advantage of the speakers vulnerability. The peculiar encounter between the Soul and the Goblin
certainly has strong sexual overtones.
Perhaps this sinister figure symbolises erotic thoughts that the speaker has entertained. The word Sip
can easily be read as a command that the speaker issues to the Goblin rather than a description of the Goblins
actions. These thoughts, then, fill the speaker with self-disgust and are considered Unworthy, especially when
compared with the ideals of romantic love.
Verses 3 and 4 may represent times of sexual fun and fulfilment, where the speaker breaks free of the
restraints that society places on her and enjoys her sexuality. The bursting of all the doors might represent
the breaking down of inhibitions. The image of the bees ecstatic encounter with his Rose could also represent
sexual joy and fulfilment.