"Nobody knows, so still it flows"—The Discourse of Water in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

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Emily Dickinson's use of water as a dominant poetic trope differs from typical religious archetypal associations with baptism, cleansing, and rebirth. Dickinson transforms rather than recapitulates established theological concepts, borrowing and adapting Biblical themes to suit her artistic purposes. Dickinson's water poems are the poet's means of initiating a discourse with God. Dickinson's poems, however, portray the poet's seeking communion and finding only a silent response to her attempts to initiate an exchange with God. Unable to find requital to her needs for discourse, Dickinson uses Biblical imagery to vindicate ultimately abandoning the orthodox tenets of Calvinism. Resenting the unresponsiveness ... continued below

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iii, 159 leaves

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Price, Kenneth Robert, 1962- May 1996.

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  • Price, Kenneth Robert, 1962-

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Emily Dickinson's use of water as a dominant poetic trope differs from typical religious archetypal associations with baptism, cleansing, and rebirth. Dickinson transforms rather than recapitulates established theological concepts, borrowing and adapting Biblical themes to suit her artistic purposes.
Dickinson's water poems are the poet's means of initiating a discourse with God. Dickinson's poems, however, portray the poet's seeking communion and finding only a silent response to her attempts to initiate an exchange with God. Unable to find requital to her needs for discourse, Dickinson uses Biblical imagery to vindicate ultimately abandoning the orthodox tenets of Calvinism.
Resenting the unresponsiveness of God, particularly if the solitude she experiences has been imposed through His will rather than her own, Dickinson poetically reverses roles with God to establish her autonomy, looking instead to the reader of her poetry to requite her need for discourse. And as interaction is seen as a need that Dickinson must have realized, poetry may then be understood as the poet's invitation of the reader into the discourse she finds lacking in God.
Refuting Calvinist doctrines allows the poet to validate her autonomy as well. Instead of following a course of life prescribed by God, Dickinson demonstrates her resistance to suppliance through water. Dickinson refuses to follow God's guidance unquestioningly because merely being part of a collective who follow an indifferent god provides no lasting distinction for a poet seeking immortality.
Having broken the union with God and established her god-like identity as a poet, Dickinson turns to the similar use of Biblical language in her poetry to establish the communion with her reader that she finds lacking in her relationship with God. Dickinson then strengthens this bond with the reader by asserting that divinity is present in every individual not suppressed by the restraining presence of God.

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iii, 159 leaves

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  • May 1996

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Price, Kenneth Robert, 1962-. "Nobody knows, so still it flows"—The Discourse of Water in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson, dissertation, May 1996; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc277904/: accessed November 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .