Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Heart! We will forget him! | Summary

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Summary

This two-stanza poem deviates from ballad meter in a few ways. The first line consists of only six syllables instead of the usual eight, and it neither begins nor ends with an iambic foot. While the third and fourth lines approximate ballad meter, the fifth, seventh, and eighth lines are shorter than usual. Addressing her heart, the speaker proposes they both forget an unnamed "him," presumably an object of romantic love. As the speaker must forget his "light," her heart must forget "the warmth he gave." She indicates the heart must be first to forget before she herself can forget and urges it to tell her immediately when it has finished, for she is in danger of remembering him.

Analysis

In speaking directly to her heart, the speaker uses the literary device of apostrophe—addressing a distant person, an object, or an idea—to express the pain of remembrance. The speaker assumes the persona of a forgotten or rejected lover and makes a distinction between herself (her mind) and her heart (her emotions). The heart will miss the beloved's "warmth," but she, the speaker, will miss the more intellectual quality of "light," which for Dickinson often suggests welcome illumination, understanding, or clarity. The speaker seems helpless in her desire to forget because she urges the heart to hurry, lest she fail in her intention and prolong the pain.

Some critics see the imagery in this poem as fitting with that of the "Master letters," a series of three letters Dickinson wrote, but may not have sent, to a male figure who was an object of unrequited affection from 1858–62, some of her most productive years. Although it's not generally agreed who the "Master" may have been, some believe it was Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican, with whom Dickinson maintained a long friendship and correspondence.

In this poem the meter varies to reflect the speaker's emotions as she addresses her heart. Beginning with the stressed syllable Heart! creates a sense of urgency, as the speaker directly addresses her heart, urging it to act. The second line has only five, rather than the usual six, syllables and also begins with a stressed syllable You, and the seventh line again begins with the single stressed syllable Haste!, another command to the heart.

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