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My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –


by Emily Dickinson

Nature (and its dark side)

Symbol Analysis

Our speaker brings up some fairly violent examples of nature in this poem: a doe being hunted in "Sovereign Woods," a volcanic mountain with a deadly track record, and a species of duck that plucks its own feathers in order to create a cushy pillow. Nature forms the slightly menacing backdrop – the wallpaper, if you will – of this poem.

  • Line 5-7: In this verse in which our speaker discusses hunting and talking to mountains, we see an example of anaphora in the repetition of the phrase "and now We." This repetition makes the act of hunting or roaming the woods seem like a very methodical task that our speaker does regularly. This section almost sounds like a recipe.
  • Line 5: The "Sovereign Woods," with all of that capitalization, seem important (like the king of all woods). Perhaps these woods are a symbol of life, death, or afterlife. Perhaps they are the world of art through which our speaker makes a path. In any case, we know that when woods appear in literature and poetry, they often indicate that the speaker, narrator, or character is far away from civilization or is lost in a maze of ideas and problems.
  • Line 6: Hunting is a metaphor for letting anger loose, and the doe is a symbol for the thing that our speaker is angry at or that needs killing. It is interesting to note that does are female deer. In this way, the concept of gender is stirred up in the world of the poem.
  • Line 8: The "Mountains" are personified, because they reply to our speaker. This could mean that the mountains create an echo, repeating her words, but the language here leads us to believe that the mountains are doing some chit-chatting.
  • Line 11: Here our speaker makes an allusion to Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted in 79 A.D. in northern Italy. "Vesuvian face" is a simile for the speaker’s smile. The presence of this volcano in this poem helps us feel and sense how much anger the speaker has and how much destruction this anger is capable of producing. The "Vesuvian face" contradicts the pleasurable connotations of a smile. As a result, we have a smile described in a very violent way.
  • Line 15-16: An "Eider-Duck’s Deep Pillow" is a metaphor for our speaker’s pillow. You actually don’t need to know much about Eider ducks, other than that in order to make its nest the Eider duck may pluck feathers from itself to make it. One interpretation is that the speaker sleeping with her "Master" and guarding him is somehow both a nurturing and self-destructive act.

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