Thursday, January 25, 2007

Swimmer's Dividing Water

Journal No. 7
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Emily Dickinson

From Billy Collins' Poem "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes"

I. "Then the long white dress, a more complicated matter with mother-of-pearl buttons down the back, so tiny and numerous that it takes forever before I can part the fabric like a swimmer's dividing water, and slip inside."

II. Billy Collins is using many similes to illustrate Emily Dickinson's femininity. He describes items that she is wearing as though they are the same delicate items that another very feminine, very sexual woman might possess.

III. As many texts have declared, Emily Dickinson was a highly educated, opinionated, talented woman who most see as a person without much depth to her sexuality. Mr. Collins is attempting to describe the ultimate feminine being as the hidden Emily Dickinson. He describes her clothing, movements, and actions in an almost endearing fashion. He is taking his time with the words and descriptions that he chooses, just as he might if we were watching him seduce her right in front of our eyes. His intended pauses and slow-on-the-tongue phrases make you feel almost drunk with the passion and tenderness. I do realize that this poem is almost tongue-in-cheek, deliberately telling readers and critics that she has more to her than what you first perceive, but I do really feel his careful scrutiny of her buttons in this quote. When Mr. Collins says "I can part the fabric like a swimmer's dividing water, and slip inside," he is conveying both beauty and eroticism at the same time. He is describing his tenderness for her by saying that what she is wearing is as though it were a dividing water. In addition, the parting of something and then "entering" is obviously a very sexual connotation. This is a very effective technique in bringing to light a very different woman than the strong, firecracker, asexual woman that we were led to believe that she was. This is by no means your mother's Emily Dickinson!


Marlys said...

I agree with you that it is a very vivid and sensual poem. There's no doubt that Collins deliberately wanted to have the reader right there with him, a direct witness to the experience he's created. One other bit I noticed was that this poem included a lot of points that people familiar with Dickinson would immediately pick up on.
"...she was standing/by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
/motionless, a little wide-eyed,"
That description comes from the general knowledge of her tendency toward seclusion and how she lived. The description of what she looked like doesn't exactly fit into the role of the woman wrapped up in passion, but it DOES sound exactly like the Emily we see in the photos of her.
"how there were sudden dashes/ whenever we spoke." That is directly and solely from her writings. I think that in this poem, beyond Emily herself, he is also describing her writing.
Excellent post! I hope you don’t mind that I took a peek. :o)

Scott said...

20 points. Not your mother's Emily indeed!