Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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I dwell in Possibility—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "I dwell in Possibility—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | I dwell in Possibility-- | Summary

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Summary

This three-stanza poem follows standard ballad meter for the most part, although some lines that would normally contain eight syllables, or four iambic feet—the third line in the first stanza and the first line in the second and third stanzas—have only seven syllables and end in an unstressed syllable.

In the framework of an elaborate architectural conceit, the speaker explains she dwells in a house she calls "Possibility," by which she means poetry. Poetry, she asserts, is more beautiful—"fairer ... than prose." Its greater number of metaphorical windows and doors offer more ways of viewing and connecting with the natural world. The poetic house is built of strong, beautiful materials and has limitless potential. In her house of poetry she receives "the fairest" visitors, and all she has to do is spread her hands to gather paradise.

Analysis

In the first line, by comparing "Possibility" to "prose," the speaker is implying possibility—or poetry—is the opposite of prose, which, for the speaker has more limitations. After initially stating she dwells in possibility, the speaker continues the architectural metaphors to demonstrate the superiority of poetry to prose. The windows can be seen as vantage points or differing perspectives. The doors can be points of entry. The cedars suggest the cedars of Lebanon mentioned in the Old Testament: tall, strong trees used in building the Temple. The house in this poem is built so sturdily it is "Impregnable of Eye," crowned with a roof as high as the sky and constructed to last forever.

In these ways, the speaker says, poetry is superior to prose. Poetry attracts visitors more beautiful than those of prose, or readers more attuned to the limitless poetic imagination than to the stricter boundaries of prose. In poetry the speaker creates such bounty of beauty and ideas all she has to do is spread her hands to create something beautiful. By implication, a house of prose must be dark, with fewer perspectives or entry points, built of lesser materials, and attracting dull visitors.

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