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Bi Sexuality Of Emily Dickinson Essay, Research Paper

The inner-workings of Emily Dickinson’s mind continue to be an enigma to literary scholars, worldwide. Dickinson’s agoraphobia caused her to live a solitary and secluded life in her Amherst, Massachusetts home for a large portion of her life. “She rarely received visitors, and in her mature years she never went out” (Ferguson, et. al.; 1895). It is also known that she was in love with a married man (no one knows for sure exactly who this man was) who eventually ended their relationship and this left her very distraught. Some scholars believe that at one point in her life, Dickinson suffered a nervous breakdown, possibly caused by the break-up of the relationship. A woman named Rebecca Patterson exposed the most dramatic and shocking revelation about Emily Dickinson’s life. Patterson’s discovered that many of the emotional love poems that Dickinson wrote were addressed to women. She published her findings in a 1951 book entitled The Riddle of Emily Dickinson.

It was later found out that Dickinson wrote many letters of sexual fantasy and longing to several women. The most notable of these women was her good friend and sister-in-law, Sue Gilbert. The discovery of Dickinson’s affection for woman does not contradict the fact that she was deeply in love with a man at some point in her life. There are many love poems that Dickinson wrote to men. In today’s society, Emily would probably be considered a bi-sexual. Homoerotic thoughts and tendencies were not a possibility during Dickinson’s time because the idea of homosexuality had yet to be socially constructed. That is the reason she had to hide the true intentions of her poetry. The love poems that Dickinson wrote to men are distinctly different from the love poems that Dickinson wrote to women. This paper will examine various examples of Dickinson’s love poems and point out those differences.

Many of Dickinson’s love poems had sexual undertones. There is an apparent difference between the sexually explicit poems that were written to men from the ones that were written to women. Poem # 616 is an example of a poem that was written to a man. This poem blatantly exhibits Dickinson’s sexual intercourse with a man and more specifically her description of an orgasm.

The first stanza has both Dickinson and her lover orgasm at the same time. Just as her lover is reaching his sexual peak, Dickinson (much to her surprise) started to reach hers. In the second stanza Dickinson states, “I sang firm-even-chants,” she is describing the feelings of rapture and bliss that she experiences as she is going through the orgasm. The third stanza describes the connection or closeness that they felt as their bodies soothed and recovered from their moment of ecstasy. The fourth stanza acts as an ode to her companion’s “low Arch of Flesh” (penis), which brought her so much pleasure. The fifth stanza in the poem is an expression of the joyous sentiments she felt after having experienced something as inexplicably pleasurable as an orgasm. In the last stanza Dickinson refers to the power and control that she has over man’s quest for sexual climax.

The sexual poems that Dickinson wrote to or about women were more discreet than what she exhibited in poem # 616. In poem # 211 Dickinson uses nature as a metaphor to illustrate the performance of a homosexual act between two women.

Come slowly, Eden!

Lips unused to thee,

Bashful, sip thy jasmines,

As the fainting bee,

Reaching late his flower,

Round her chamber hums’

Counts his nectars-enters,

And is lost in balms!

The first line in the poem has a double meaning. First, it can simply be seen as one woman calling for a woman to come towards her. However, the first line could also be alluding to a woman’s sexual orgasm. In the rest of the poem, Dickinson is calling out to a woman who is not experienced in feminine homosexual acts. She is telling the woman she admires to bring her “bashful, lips unused” into the area of her lower extremities and taste its nectar just as a bee would take the nectar from a flower. In the sixth and seventh lines Dickinson is portraying the anxiety of the situation. The other woman is unsure whether or not to participate in the sexual act because it is not an accepted norm of society. However, the last line of the poem tells the reader that the woman did end up “sipping thy jasmines” and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dickinson wrote many poems that paint a portrait of heartbreak and jilted love. Although the poems of love’s despair could apply to both men and women, many of these poems show a constant struggle for power and independence in the relationship. These are the poems that most likely referred to her relationships with men. An example of these poems is # 751. In the first stanza Dickinson questions her value and worth as a woman. Her significant other inspired these feelings of self-doubt. The second stanza refers to the expectations that have been placed on her by the man in her life. It says that she should adhere to her “loving creed” of supporting the man and doing whatever he asks of her. The last stanza shows Dickinson accepting her role in the relationship and her place in society. The ending of the poem does not show her giving in to the oppressing expectations placed upon her by men. Dickinson meant the ending to be sarcastic, probably to inspire women not to be their husband/boyfriend’s concubines.

Many of the love poems that Dickinson wrote for women have a defining characteristic. In these poems, Dickinson often expressed a deep desire to connect with her partner emotionally. One of these poems is Dickinson’s poem #84.

Her breast is fit for pearls’

But I was not a ‘Diver’-

Her brow is fit for thrones

But I have not a crest.

Her heart is fit for home-

I-a Sparrow-build there

Sweet twigs and twine

My perennial nest.

The first two lines in the poem do two different things. First of all, she is paying homage to the woman that she has feelings for. However, the first two lines also tell the reader right away that she does not seek a relationship with a woman for the sexual aspect of it. In the next two lines, Dickinson continues her praise of women in general and also for the one specific woman that she admires in her life. The last four lines in the poem specify the seeking of an emotional attachment to a woman. Dickinson’s reference to the other woman’s heart as a home implies that fact. Other examples of her poetry show that Dickinson was not receiving the emotional support she needed from heterosexual relationships, so she looked for it elsewhere.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry not only contributed extensively to the world of literature but it also helped inspire the female voice to break free from the shackles of oppression that society placed upon it. Her writing told women that it was o.k. for them to express their feelings, hardships, and desires no matter how taboo the subject might have been or how negatively society would have perceived them. For these reasons Emily Dickinson’s writings and poetry will continue to be studied and admired by women for generations to come.

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