Emily Dickinson's Word Choice and Metaphor: a Study in Poetic Precision

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 623 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 623|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Precision of Word Choice
  3. The Role of Metaphor
  4. The Interplay of Word Choice and Metaphor
  5. Conclusion


Emily Dickinson is often regarded as one of the most enigmatic and innovative poets of the 19th century. Her poetry, characterized by its brevity, complexity, and depth, offers a unique window into the human experience. Central to the power of Dickinson’s poetry are her precise word choices and her masterful use of metaphor. These elements not only convey profound philosophical and emotional insights but also create a layered and nuanced reading experience. This essay explores Dickinson's word choice and metaphorical language, examining how these elements contribute to the richness and depth of her poetic expression.

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The Precision of Word Choice

Dickinson’s word choice is notable for its precision and economy. She often employed common words in uncommon ways, thereby imbuing them with new meanings and resonances. For instance, in the poem "Because I could not stop for Death," Dickinson's choice of the word "kindly" to describe Death transforms the typically feared figure into a courteous guide. This subtle yet powerful choice of wording shifts the reader's perception of death from a terrifying event to a gentle journey. The poem’s opening lines:

"Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –"

demonstrate how Dickinson’s careful selection of words can create a profound and unexpected impact.

The Role of Metaphor

Metaphor is another crucial element in Dickinson’s poetry. Her use of metaphor is not just decorative but serves to deepen the thematic and emotional layers of her work. In the same poem, "Because I could not stop for Death," Death is personified as a carriage driver, and life is depicted as a journey. This metaphor allows Dickinson to explore complex ideas about mortality and the passage of time in a tangible and relatable manner. The journey metaphor extends throughout the poem, encompassing various stages of life:

"We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –"

Each stage metaphorically represents different phases of life, culminating in the final destination of the "House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground," a subtle reference to a grave. Through this extended metaphor, Dickinson encapsulates the entirety of human existence, demonstrating her ability to convey profound truths through seemingly simple imagery.

The Interplay of Word Choice and Metaphor

The interplay between Dickinson’s word choice and her use of metaphor is integral to the effectiveness of her poetry. Her precise language often serves to amplify the metaphors she employs, creating a synergy that enhances the overall impact of her work. In the poem "Hope is the thing with feathers," Dickinson’s choice of the word "feathers" to describe hope is both delicate and powerful. The metaphor of a bird represents hope as something light and enduring, capable of withstanding hardship. The opening lines:

"Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –"

illustrate how Dickinson’s careful selection of words works in concert with her metaphors to create vivid and evocative imagery. The bird metaphor, combined with the specific word "perches," evokes a sense of hope as an inherent, almost instinctual presence within the human spirit.

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Emily Dickinson’s poetry is a testament to the power of precise word choice and masterful metaphor. Her ability to use common words in uncommon ways and to craft metaphors that resonate deeply with readers is a hallmark of her poetic genius. Through her meticulous attention to language, Dickinson transforms ordinary experiences and emotions into extraordinary poetic expressions. Her work invites readers to explore the depths of human existence, offering new perspectives on life, death, and everything in between. In examining Dickinson’s word choice and metaphor, we gain a greater appreciation for the intricacies and nuances that make her poetry timeless and profoundly impactful.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Emily Dickinson’s Word Choice and Metaphor: A Study in Poetic Precision. (2024, Jun 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“Emily Dickinson’s Word Choice and Metaphor: A Study in Poetic Precision.” GradesFixer, 11 Jun. 2024,
Emily Dickinson’s Word Choice and Metaphor: A Study in Poetic Precision. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
Emily Dickinson’s Word Choice and Metaphor: A Study in Poetic Precision [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 11 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from:
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