Study Guide

I dwell in Possibility

By Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility Introduction

Let's play pretend.

Imagine you're a white lady in 19th-century Massachusetts (that may be easier for some more than others). Now imagine you're the kind of lady who doesn't fit in. You're not totally down with the super Puritanical values and all that fussy society stuff. Yeah, maybe a husband and kids would be nice, but you want a little more out of life. You want to write poetry—and not just any poetry. You want to write poetry that breaks rules, that challenges the narrow-minded society around you…

Congrats, you just stepped into the shoes of Emily Dickinson. Hope you didn't get a blister.

Okay, we had fun with that, but really nobody has any idea exactly why Emily decided to become a recluse-poet for a big slice of her life. All we know for sure is that she did in fact spend almost all of her time cloistered away in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, penning lines that would outlast her.

Yep, we also know for sure that she wrote 1775 of the greatest American poems ever. We're not yanking your chain here. Quietly and all by her lonesome, Emily put together a massive body of work that revolutionized poetry and spoke with a distinctly American voice. Lucky for us, her sister Lavinia found the piles of poems after Emily died in 1886 and went on a crusade to get them published. The first book, Poems, was published in 1890.

It's easy to see how "I dwell in Possibility" sprouted from Emily Dickinson's brain. It's a poem about the power of poetry, and it mashes up images of a house and nature to get its point across. Which makes a lot of sense coming from a lady who hung out at her country house writing poems all day, right?

More than anything, this poem has Emily written all over it because it deals with the way poetry can get us in touch with infinite universe around us. Ambitious? Yes. Does it pull if off? You be the judge. We have a feeling Emily is still reciting this one in that great big whatever it is out there.

What is I dwell in Possibility About and Why Should I Care?

Be honest: have you ever felt like you live your life in a cage? Every day you wake up, go to school, do your extracurricular, go to work, and then you repeat the same thing over and over again. It's enough to make you go nutso. Don't worry, though; you're not alone. Plenty of people feel trapped by their lives—even people whose lives seem beyond cool from the outside.

"I dwell in Possibility" is a poem that shows us how any life-cage can be broken. No, it doesn't require Hulk-like strength. All you have to do is read a poem. Sure, that might sound a little Reading Rainbow cheesy, but it's the truth.

Yup, this is a poem that reminds of us of poetry's power to expand minds and make us think about the great big universe around us. Don't believe us? Read the poem. Dare yourself to dig… and dig deep. Then dare yourself to dwell in possibility.

I dwell in Possibility Resources

Websites

Dickinson Biography
Short and sweet bios—get 'em while they're hot.

Dickinson Electronic Archive
Click here for a treasure trove of Dickinson.

Video

Dickinson Meets Skyrim
Some dude thought it was a good idea to illustrate the poem with graphics from Skyrim. (We agree.)

Audio

A Sense of Humor
The New Yorker blesses us with a clip that shows Emily enhanced by sound effects. (Hint: take this with a grain of salty satire.)

Out Loud
Emily's poems and letters performed by actress Julie Harris.

Images

Dickinson Pic
Here's new old picture of Emily (scroll to the bottom).

Books

The Emily Dickinson Journal
It's all Dickinson all the time via this link.

Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters
Spy on Emily's personal life by reading her letters. You know you want to.