Course Hero. "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Apr. 2018. Web. 10 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/>.
Course Hero. (2018, April 13). Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide." April 13, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/.
Course Hero, "Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) Study Guide," April 13, 2018, accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Poems-of-Emily-Dickinson-Selected/.
Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "The Soul selects her own Society—."
This three-stanza poem deviates from ballad meter in an unusual way. While in typical ballad meter the odd-numbered lines have eight syllables and the even number lines have six, in this poem the odd-numbered lines have nine or 10 syllables, while the shortened even-number lines have, in the first two stanzas, only four syllables, and in the final stanza, only two each.
The speaker describes the way one ("the soul") chooses particular friends or companions. The soul chooses those with whom she will associate and then shuts out everyone else. It doesn't matter how grand or important any subsequent visitor might be: she will be "unmoved" even if an "Emperor" were to "be kneeling / Upon her Mat." The speaker has known the soul to choose just one companion and then firmly close off her attention to others.
This poem creates a picture of a soul, or an individual, who chooses a companion and then coldly shuts all others out. Acting without regret or compunction, she "shuts the Door," closes the "Valves of her attention," and is "Unmoved" by those who present themselves to her. The feeling of decisive renunciation is accentuated by the feeling of abruptness created by the disparity in length between the odd-numbered lines and the even-numbered lines.
Similar to "'Hope' is the thing with feathers—" in the third stanza a first-person speaker suddenly appears ("I've known her") and notes the Soul, in selecting her own society, might choose just one other, suggesting "her divine Majority" may be just a majority of two. After this she closes "the Valves of her attention"—her eyes—"like Stone."
The attitude in this poem reflects facts of Dickinson's life; she was not a public person, not given to socializing beyond a small, carefully selected circle. In later life she became something of a recluse, known to local people as "The Myth," according to Mabel Loomis Todd, who later edited her poetry. This poem seems to assert the soul must attend to itself, and no lover, friend, or ambition deserves dominion over it.