The Justification for Staying Private
In at least three different poems Emily Dickinson shows her thinking about being a public person. In “This is my letter to the world,” (519) the speaker says she wants to be private, but to fully understand why she wants this, the reader must look at two other poems. The reader must turn to an earlier poem, “I’m Nobody,” (260) and surprisingly, in order to grasp poem 260, a later poem, “Publication - is the Auction” (788), is also necessary. These three poems have a similar theme of publicity and privacy, and they also use similar elements—rhyme, meter, and punctuation—to express that theme. Therefore, when these poems are taken together, 788 clarifies 260, which itself explains 519. By itself, poem 519 is hard to understand, but it becomes intelligible when it is read alongside poems 260 and 788.
One of the rhymes in poem 519 shows that the speaker is hidden from the world. The poem says, “Her Message is committed / To Hands I cannot see … Judge Tenderly - of Me.” The poem seems to say that the beauty of nature—nature’s “Message”—is in hands she “cannot see.” However, the rhyming of “cannot see” with “of Me” to show that the speaker, too, is hidden—from the world. The meter of the poem further emphasizes that the speaker is hidden. Its structure is alternating verses of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. However, the fifth line is missing the last beat. This emphasizes that the speaker is hidden from everyone else: she is hidden just like the last beat of the line.
The second rhyme in the poem begins to explain why the speaker wants to be hidden from the world. Ostensibly, poem 519 describes only nature as majestic: the speaker explains that she stayed away from the public in order to focus on nature’s beauty. However, the rhyme between “me” and “Majesty” adds that the speaker believes she herself has become majestic from absorbing nature. Taking nature’s majesty for herself is her reason for staying out of the public and remaining in nature. Nevertheless, while the poem explains that being in nature creates “Majesty,” it does not explain why the speaker has such a desire to be majestic.
Poem 260 sheds light on this question through a similar use of rhyme and a contrast of meter. In the poem, the speaker asks the reader whether he or she is a “Nobody,” someone not famous. At first, this seems to be a simple question. The first rhyme, though, shows what the speaker means. She rhymes “Who are you” with “Nobody - too.” The words “you” and “too” are both referring to the reader. In connecting these words together—and not to any other words—the speaker makes a closed-circuit: the “you” is only associated with another you, and not with any other people. In doing this, the speaker asks whether the reader—like the rhyming words—is unreliant on any other words or people. Thus, the speaker wants herself and the reader to be original. Poem 260’s lack of meter conveys this as well. The poem has a similar theme to...