Michaela Spoljaric is a writer at BHSEC, Cleveland-West. She is a recipient of the 2018 Achievement Award in the Study of Poetry.
In their hit song “I’m Fine,” the singing group BTS asserts, “날개는 찢겨지고 언젠가 내가 내가 아니게 된달지어도 괜찮아” (“The wings are torn and, even if I’m not myself one day, it’s okay.”). To feel lost and directionless is a common yet difficult concept to grasp. And it’s due to the fact that humans do not know how to find another path once they are astray from their original route. In their minds, once they have lost their way, they cannot find it again. But that’s simply not true. BTS voices that it’s ok to feel like your wings are torn and you cannot fly anywhere, because it is just one day and not the next one. Despite the simplicity of the mindset, many people do not believe in it, but there are few who do. One believer is Emily Dickinson, an American poet during the mid to late 1800s. She created thousands of poems, each with a different meaning and clever word play, but people interpret her poems as tragedies with no happiness in sight. While many scholars believe Dickinson is a tragic poet, she actually ends most, if not all, her poems with a hopeful tone.
The perspective that Dickinson is a poet who writes tragedies is not a far-fetched theory and definitely not wrong. She has many poems that have a melancholy tone to them. In one of Dickinson’s poems, she talks of not having any food and mentions how “God gave a Loaf to every Bird –/ But just a Crumb — to Me –” (791). This opening line’s tone seems bitter and upset about poverty and the experience of people who cannot afford food. Dickinson also expresses an almost surprising tone by wondering why “to Me –” she has this crumb, and she is not happy that such poverty is the case (791). In another poem, Dickinson talks about flowers and how they “fail in the Wood –” because they do not have the “privilege to know/ That they are Beautiful –” (404). The poem’s opening line gives off the vibe of rejection and the inability to love oneself and beauty. To not have the “privilege to know” that something or someone is beautiful gives the poem a dark tone, and its opening the idea that to know that you “are beautiful” is a privilege rather than a right (404). From what we can grasp of these two poems, Dickinson writes about tragedies and hardships. But to claim that she maintains a melancholy tone throughout her poems would be doing her a disservice.
While Dickinson includes a gloomy tone to her poems, gloom is not the overall message she is spreading. Her poems actually spread hope. The poem where Dickinson is seemingly talking about poverty also mentions that “with but a Crumb — / Am Sovereign of them all –” (791). The end line insinuates that although the speaker gets just a crumb, the crumb empowers her: she is “Sovereign.” The poem is bitter about not having more things. Rather, the speaker is content with the little things in life that make you feel happy and in charge of your life. So the message Dickinson spreads is not anger, hate, or greed, but instead how the little things in life can also make you happy. The second poem explores the inability to see one’s beauty, but that’s not the poem’s guiding tone. Dickinson tells us in the poem’s final line that people tend to be “Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight –” beauty tends to “bear to Other Eyes –” (404). For Dickinson, while sometimes we cannot see our beauty, this oversight does not mean we are not beautiful because other eyes can see that we are. While the message can begin darkly, it ends in a reassuring way that tells people that no matter what you think of yourself, you are beautiful and so are the things around you.
Dickinson may start her poems with a melancholy tone, but by the end of them, she spreads a hopeful message. Dickinson scholar Cristanne Miller explains that while “the Lady may die, . . . her expressed essence continues to create” (3). Even though someone may die, their soul and their presence still rings true in the lives of many people who have met and touched the departed in a way. Dickinson writes that we are allowed to feel different types of emotions during sorrowful events besides just sadness. Her work asserts that we are only human and that it is okay if you feel like you are torn between both sadness and joy.