I dwell in Possibility

Emily Dickinson

‘I dwell in Possibility’ by Emily Dickinson is a short, memorable poem. It explores themes of writing, specifically poetic writing, and the power it has.


Emily Dickinson

Nationality: American

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: The act of writing is filled with possibility

Themes: Celebration, Dreams

Speaker: Likely Emily Dickinson

Emotions Evoked: Enjoyment, Excitement, Joyfulness

Poetic Form: Ballad, Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

Emily Dickinson's 'I dwell in Possibility' of what readers should already be well aware of - the incredible power that poetry has.

Throughout this ‘I dwell in Possibility,’ the poet makes use of her characteristic dashes and sporadic capitalization of letters. Scholars are divided over what this intermittent punctuation could mean.

But in this case, the dashes are easily read as moments in which the speaker was overwhelmed or thinking hard before proceeding. The pauses represent a desire to create drama and tension in the text. It is also a way for the reader, speaker, and even Dickinson herself, to gather thoughts together before moving on to the next line. 

Additionally, there is no single definitive reason why Dickinson capitalized on the words she did. Often, the words she chose were the most prominent of the lines, the ones that were the most evocative and meaningful.

I dwell in Possibility –
Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –A fairer House than Prose –More numerous of Windows –Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –Impregnable of eye –And for an everlasting RoofThe Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –For Occupation – This –The spreading wide my narrow HandsTo gather Paradise –
I dwell in Possibility by Emily Dickinson

Summary of I dwell in Possibility

‘I dwell in Possibility’ by Emily Dickinson is a multilayered poem that speaks about the power and possibility inherent in writing poetry. 

Throughout the poem, the speaker describes the act of writing as gathering “paradise”. Her house of possibility and poetry is a strong one. It reaches up, boundless to the sky, and allows her to attempt to understand the world. Visitors come to her house, the fairest of all poetry readers, and they also hear what she has to say. It is better than prose, she says at the beginning. There are more openings, more doors, and more windows. 

Structure of I dwell in Possibility

I dwell in Possibility’ by Emily Dickinson is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The poem is written in what is known as ballad meter, something that is quite common in Dickinson’s works. The lines alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. This means that some of the lines have four sets of two beats per line and others have three sets of two beats per line. No matter the length, the first beat of each foot is unstressed and the second is stressed. 

Literary Devices in I dwell in Possibility

Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘I dwell in Possibility’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, personification, and metaphor. The latter is the most important technique at work in ‘I dwell in Possibility’. It is seen through Dickinson’s personification (it occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics) of the “Possibility” as something that one can “dwell” inside of. It has windows, doors, chambers, and an “everlasting Roof”. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Possibility” and “Prose”. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the second stanza and lines one and two of the third stanza. 

Analysis of I dwell in Possibility

Stanza One 

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

In the first stanza of ‘I dwell in Possibility’ the speaker makes use of the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. Dickinson did not title any of her poems, and due to the fact that the bulk of them were published after her death, they are known by their first lines or a numerical designation. She states in the first lines that she lives inside “Possibility”. 

This state of mind is the one she exists in almost constantly. But, she doesn’t leave it at that. Dickinson uses metaphor and personification to describe “Possibility” as a physical structure that has specific features. 

It is “fairer” than “Prose” and has more “windows” and even more “Doors”. These phrases fit in with the idea of “possibility” perfectly. There are many more chances to see outside, make decisions, and have someone or something interesting show up than there are in another “house”. Due to the addition of the word “Prose” in this stanza, it is important to consider how Dickinson’s “house” is related to the opposite of prose, poetry. She is describing her own writing, her creativity, and her art through the metaphor of a “house of possibilities”. The complexities of this description only become more pronounced in the next stanzas. 

Stanza Two

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

In the second quatrain of ‘I dwell in Possibility,’ the speaker continues her description of what the house of “Possibility” looks like. The chambers are made of natural wood, Cedar, and are always expanding, growing, like trees. The house is “Impregnable of eye”. This cryptic line likely refers to the ways that one gets into this house. It is not easy to enter into by simply looking in its direction. One has to arrive through the mind, through creativity, and through art, such as Dickinson’s own poetry. 

The connection to the house of possibilities and poetry continues throughout the rest of the poem. The roof is strong, alluding to the immortality of “possibility”. The roof is the “Gambrels of the sky”. The word “gambrels” refers to the construction of a type of house with a two-sided roof that has a shallow slope. It goes on forever, up into the sky and away from earth without hitting any boundaries. 

Stanza Three

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

There are visitors that come to this house, likely the readers of her poetry. She thinks of them as the “fairest”. It is her “occupation” to work in this house of possibilities and write for the visitors. It isn’t her career or even her job, it is just something she just likes to spend her time doing. The word “This” appears between dashes. It encompasses everything that she’s written so far and all the allusions to art and meaning. 

Her simple, narrow hands are given the power to “gather Paradise” through the possibilities of her poetry. She can hang onto meaningful ideas and expand her own mind. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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