One can wonder whether William Shakespeare's sonnets would be memorized in every classroom across the Western world if they were anything other sonnets. So inseparable are the two ideas that they barely have separate identities: Shakespeare's sonnets are accepted without question, and most analytical commentaries approach from the angle of content rather than form. His sonnets just are, and one rarely questions the “why” of his sonnets. Sadly, Emily Dickinson has been equally discriminated, passed off as a “genre” poet: as Shakespeare is the sonnet, Dickinson is the ballad. Yet such a generalization is destructively misleading. Dickinson is other forms as well; she is even poetic freedom. She is not defined so easily, and neither are her poems. And when she does use the ballad form, that very use must be explored as thoroughly as the meaning behind her words, for, to steal the cliché, there is a method to her madness.
[...] Consequentially, Emily Dickinson gives birth to the everyday hero through her ballads. The historic notion of the hero has changed: while the modern man or woman does not slay a dragon or lead an army of knights on horseback, he or she does live, does survive, a feat that can be seen as equally heroic. Dickinson's journey in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is fantastical, magical, beyond physical comprehension, much like the journeys of those epic heroes who were stronger and braver than any man or woman who came before. [...]
[...] Inner Meaning of Poetic Form.” After New Formalism: Poets on Form, Narrative and Tradition. Ed. Annie Finch. Ashland, OR: Story Line 199-203. Wiman, Christian. Idea of Order.” After New Formalism: Poets on Form, Narrative and Tradition. Ed. Annie Finch. Ashland, OR: Story Line 204-216. Appendix A Because I could not stop for Death (712) by Emily Dickinson Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me The Carriage held but just Ourselves And Immortality. We slowly drove He knew no haste [...]
[...] To say that Emily Dickinson not only resurrects the folk ballad, but also resurrects modern man's ability to be seen as a hero forces a heavy burden onto her poems. But the connection is there if one takes in the whole picture and does not lose himself in finer technical points that saturate contemporary poetic criticism. Perhaps Frederick Turner makes this connection the best when he states that “poets . must be shamans,” for shaman speaks to, and for, a whole culture” (202). [...]
[...] Emily Dickinson may have been a feminist, but a feminist approach to her poetry, especially to her ballads, undermines the greater complexity of her achievements. In order for the true effects of her ballads to be appreciated, they cannot be broken down, studied in fragments, or read with a certain political agenda. They must be taken in whole, in the context of culture and history, in the context of the universe as a whole. Dickinson establishes a direct link between content and form, not using one for the purpose of the other. [...]
[...] The form itself developed from a resurgence of interest in ballads in England during the early nineteenth century: these literary ballads were created imitation of the old anonymous folk ballad” The original folk ballad, sung and memorized and passed down from bard to bard, were rarely written down, and what remains now are shards of thoughts strung together into a likely story. But the folk ballad is a form, maybe not in the sense of modern formality, but in the sense that it achieves its goal. [...]
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