Emily Dickinson's Use of Humor and Irony
While much of Emily Dickinson's poetry has been described as sad or morose, the poetess did use humor and irony in many of her poems. This essay will address the humor and/ or irony found in five of Dickinson's poems: "Faith" is a Fine Invention, I'm Nobody! Who are you?, Some keep the Sabbath Going to Church and Success Is Counted Sweetest. The attempt will be made to show how Dickinson used humor and / or irony for the dual purposes of comic relief and to stress an idea or conclusion about her life and environment expressed by the poetess in the respective poem. The most humorous or ironic are some of the shorter poems, such as the four lined stanzas of "Faith" is a Fine Invention and Success Is Counted Sweetest.
In "Faith"..., Dickinson presents a witty and biting satirical look at Faith and its limitations. While it still amuses readers today, it must be mentioned that this short poem would have had a greater impact and seriousness to an audience from the period Dickinson lived in. Dickinson was raised in a strict Calvinist household and received most of her education in her youth at a boarding school that also followed the American Puritanical tradition she was raised in. In this short, witty piece Dickinson addresses two of the main obsessions of her generation: The pursuit of empirical knowledge through science, faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful Christian god and the debate on which was the more powerful belief. In this poem Dickinson uses humor to ease her position in the debate on to the reader. Dickinson uses her ability to write humourously and ironically (as seen in her suggestion of the use of microscopes) to present a firm, controversial opinion into what could be dismissed as an irreverent, inconsequential piece of writing.
In Success..., Dickinson's emphasis is less on humor and more on expressing irony. This poem may be partially auto-biographical in nature. Dickinson made few attempts during her life to be taken as more than an armature poetess. On one occasion, she sent a collection of her poems to a correspondent who was also a published poet. His criticism of the poems devastated Dickinson, and she never made another attempt towards publishing her works.
In Success..., Dickinson reflects on the nature of success and how, ironically, it can be best appreciated and understood by those who have not achieved it and have no taste of it. As in "Faith"..., Dickinson powerfully presents her thoughts in a few lines. The poem deals only with one, ironic but universal, idea in its short length. It is the bitterness expressed at this irony (as found it Dickinson's juxtaposition of the words sweetest and sorest, separated by two lines) that is most felt by the reader. While the previous poem expresses the poetess' bitterness and sorrow with one aspect of her life, I'm Nobody! Who Are You? uses humor without irony to address another. In this poem,...