Emily Dickinson’s Poems: Genre Presentation

For my presentation on Emily Dickinson’s Poems, I focused on the genre category of the exam. I primarily used Seo Yeoung Chu’s discussion of cognitive estrangement and highlighted some significant aspects of her argument that would relate to the highlighted lines in Dickinson’s poems. I also posted a few quotes from Poes, “The Tell-tale Heart” and Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper” to help with the comparison between lyric poetry and narrative fiction. As a counter-argument, I also included a quote from Culler’s, “Why Lyric”, to help one disagree with Chu or strengthen her argument (depending on which you prefer).


Cognitive Estrangement in Poetry

Emily Dickinson Poems

Seo Young Chu, Excerpts from Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep?: A Science Fictional Theory of Representation

I hereby submit a theory that might initially sound implausible but will, I hope, have become more convincing by the end of this introduction. Science fiction and lyric poetry are joined inseparably by rich affinities […] the coincidence lies in more than a shared intensity of figurative language. (Chu 13)

“I conceptualize science fiction as a mimetic discourse whose objects of representation are nonimaginary yet cognitively estranging” (Chu 3).

A concept both integral to my argument and far from self-evident, the “cognitively estranging referent” requires some exposition in these opening pages. What exactly does it mean for a referent, an object of representation, to be “cognitively estranging”? To answer this question, we must first ask what Suvin himself means when he calls science fiction the “literature of cognitive estrangement” (4). In Suvin’s exact words, science fiction is “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (7-8). According to Suvin, the presence of estrangement, which “differentiates SF from the ‘realistic’ mainstream,” is determined by settings and characters that are “radically or at least significantly different from empirical times, places, and characters of ‘mimetic’ or ‘naturalist fiction” (Chu 8).

“Lyric poetry is frequently soliloquy-like. Lyric voices speak from beyond ordinary time. Lyric poems are inhabited by situations and tableaux transcending ordinary temporality. Lyric descriptions are charged with depictive intensity. Lyric poetry is musically expressive. Lyric poems evoke heightened and eccentric states of consciousness” (Chu 13-14)


Connect: Narrative Fiction

“As I hope to demonstrate, only a narrative form thoroughly powered by lyricism possesses enough torque–enough twisting force, enough verse (from ‘vertere,’ Latin for ‘to turn’)–to convert an elusive referent into an object available for representation” (Chu 14).

Jonathan Culler, “Why Lyric?”

Culler discusses issues with the way poetry is read by focusing on speaker.

“Narrative structures are translatable, but lyric, in its peculiar structural patterning, figures the givenness, the untranscendability, of a particular language, which seems to its users a condition of experience” (Culler 205).





I FELT a funeral in my brain,        

And mourners, to and fro,

Kept treading, treading, till it seemed

That sense was breaking through.


And when they all were seated,                  5

A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

My mind was going numb.


And then I heard them lift a box,

And creak across my soul           10

With those same boots of lead, again.

Then space began to toll


As all the heavens were a bell,

And Being but an ear,

And I and silence some strange race,         15

Wrecked, solitary, here.


THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side, 

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.


The brain is deeper than the sea,                 5

For, hold them, blue to blue,         

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.


The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,               10

And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.


TELL ALL the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —


HOPE is the thing with feathers     

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;              5

And sore must be the storm 

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.


I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;                10

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.


Other useful texts/ quotes:


“The Tell-tale Heart”- Poe (first paragraph)

“The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed –not dulled them”

“I heard many things in hell”


“The Yellow Wallpaper”- Gilman

“I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend” (650/4)