Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Think about Dickinson’s descriptions of nature, such as in “A Bird came down the Walk” and “A narrow Fellow in the Grass.” What techniques does she use to create her indelible images? What makes poems such as these memorable despite their thematic simplicity?
2. Dickinson is often described as a poet of “inwardness.” What do you think this means? How does Dickinson convey the inner workings of the mind in a poem such as “I cannot live with You”?
3. Think about Dickinson’s tone. Does she seem to be writing for other people or only for herself? How might she universalize private feelings?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Compare and contrast two of Dickinson’s poems that deal with the subject of death. How does Dickinson portray the fact of death in a new and startling way in each? What are her apparent attitudes about dying?
2. Throughout her poetic career, Dickinson relied largely on a single, powerfully focused style and on a single set of formal characteristics for her poems. What are some of these characteristics? How might her style be described? What is the effect of this kind of uniformity on the work of a poet with so much imaginative range?
3. Dickinson’s poems often introduce an idea, then develop it with a sequence of metaphoric images. Name two examples of this kind of poem. What are some of her images? How do they work as metaphors?
4. Compare an early Dickinson poem (such as “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”) to a later one (such as “My life closed twice before its close”). How has her work changed? How has it remained the same? Did Dickinson experience much development as a poet as she grew older, or did her work largely remain the same?
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