In this powerful poem, Dickinson uses several different kinds of figurative language, including similes and metaphors. The verse speaks on change and what “home” means for someone who has been away for a long time. The change the speaker is expecting is incredibly frightening, so much so that she decides not to face it.
I Years had been from Home Emily Dickinson I Years had been from Home And now before the Door I dared not enter, lest a Face I never saw before Stare stolid into mine And ask my Business there – “My Business but a Life I left Was such remaining there?” I leaned opon the Awe – I lingered with Before – The Second like an Ocean rolled And broke against my ear – I laughed a crumbling Laugh That I could fear a Door Who Consternation compassed And never winced before. I fitted to the Latch My Hand, with trembling care Left back the awful Door should spring And leave me in the Floor – Then moved my Fingers off As cautiously as Glass And held my ears, and like a Thief Fled gasping from the House –
Explore I years had been from Home
‘I Years had been from Home’ by Emily Dickinson describes a speaker’s fear as she contemplates entering a home she hasn’t visited in years.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by noting that she’s been away from home for several years. When she finally came back, she was afraid of who was going to greet her on the other side of the door. It might be someone who stares at her without recognizing her. She will have to assert that the only thing she wants is the life she used to have.
The speaker tries to steady herself as she prepares to go inside. She looks into the windows and sees and hears nothing but silence. She’s afraid of the door at that moment. This surprises her as there have been many times that she’s faced danger without being frightened. Finally, she decides to touch the door’s latch. She drops it, and creeps away from the home, too filled with fear (like a thief) to go inside.
Structure and Form
‘I Years had been from Home’ by Emily Dickinson is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow the rules of the ballad meter. This means that the lines alternate iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. They either contain three or four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. The lines also follow a loose rhyme scheme of ABCB, also indicative of a ballad meter.
Throughout this poem, Dickinson makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “The Second like an Ocean rolled / And broke against my ear.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound a the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Door” and “dared” in the first stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza.
I years had been from Home
And now before the Door
I dared not enter, lest a Face
I never saw before
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing how it’s been a very long time since she’s been “Home.” As the poem progresses, readers may find themselves wondering if this speaker is truly contemplating visiting home or if they are using the image of “home” as a way to speak more broadly about change.
At this moment, the speaker is facing the door to her home, wondering what she’s going to see when the door opens. It could be a “Face / I never saw before.” This would indicate that the life she knew is gone. That people have moved on without her.
Stare stolid into mine
And ask my business there-
“My business but a Life I left
Was such remaining there?”
In the next lines, the speaker explores her fear that the face on the other side of the door is going to stare into her eyes, not knowing that she once belonged there, and ask her what her business is. She’ll tell that person that she had a “Life” she left there and ask if any of it is “remaining.”
I leaned upon the Awe-
I lingered with Before-
The Second like an Ocean rolled
And broke against my ear-
The speaker is worried that she’s going to have to explain herself to whoever answers the door. So, instead of opening it, she looks inside, hoping to see or hear something to give her some indication of what she’s about to face. The silence she encountered was “like an Ocean rolled / And broke against [her] ear.”
I laughed a crumbling Laugh
That I could fear a Door
Who Consternation compassed
And never winced before
The speaker laughs at her own fear, without humor, amazed at what she’s come to. She is fearing a door something that pales in comparison to the fears she’s faced in the past. She’s faced danger and never run away from it before.
I fitted to the Latch
My Hand, with trembling care
Lest back the awful Door should spring
And leave me in the Floor-
The speaker touches the latch of the door, thinking that maybe she can force herself to go inside. She’s worried that the door could open and knock her down, surprising her with the “change” she so fears is inside.
Then moved my Fingers off
As cautiously as Glass
And held my ears, and like a Thief
Fled gasping from the House-
The poem concludes with the speaker deciding that she’d rather not face whatever changes have taken place inside her home. She turns, takes her fingers off the door, and flees. She imagines herself “like a Thief” that fleas in fear from a house. The image of herself as a thief shows how alienated she feels in this moment. The fear of change is so overwhelming that she can’t make herself face it.
The purpose is to express how terrifying the idea of change can be. Without knowing what she’s going to see, the speaker is terrified of looking behind the door and seeing the profound changes that have occurred during her absence.
The speaker is unknown. They could be a poet herself, but there is no evidence to make this a certainty. Instead, all the reader knows is that they are someone who has been away from home for a long period of time and is frightened by the changes that may have taken place in their absence.
The major theme at work in this piece is change. The poet uses the silent and mysterious house as an image of change. On the other side of the door are the changes she doesn’t want to confront.
The meaning of the poem is that change can be a frightening thing, so much so that some people may choose not to face it. One’s emotions may get the best of them in these important moments.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Emily Dickinson poems. For example:
- ‘A Bird, came down the Walk’ – a beautiful nature poem. It focuses on the actions of a bird going about its everyday life.
- ‘A Coffin is a small Domain’ – explores death. It is characteristic of much of the poet’s work in that it clearly addresses this topic and everything that goes along with it.
- ‘A drop fell on the apple tree’ – is filled with joy. It describes, with Dickinson’s classic skill, images of the summer season and how a storm can influence it.