‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that’ explores personal themes of independence, society, and womanhood. Dickinson takes the reader through several differences, emotional and mental, between being a “spinster,” or an older, unmarried woman, and being a wife.
During the 19th century when Emily Dickinson was writing this poem, there was a vast gulf between these two kinds of lives. She was single until her death a feature that might influence a reader’s understanding of this short poem.
I’m “wife”—I’ve finished that Emily DickinsonI’m “wife”—I’ve finished that—That other state—I’m Czar—I’m “Woman” now—It’s safer so—How odd the Girl’s life looksBehind this soft Eclipse—I think that Earth feels soTo folks in Heaven—now—This being comfort—thenThat other kind—was pain—But why compare?I’m “Wife”! Stop there!
Explore I'm 'wife' – I've finished that
In the first lines of the poem the speaker dealers that she is now a wife. She’s setting aside, at least for the length of this poem, the life of a spinster. From her new perspective, the world looks totally different. She is standing on the bright side of the eclipse, looking down at the world from a place of safety. On the other side, are those who remain unmarried. It is a difference as vast as that between heaven and earth. The poem concludes with the speaker saying that the life of an older single woman is “pain” and then brushes aside any need for further comparison.
‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that’ by Emily Dickinson is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but are fairly similar when it comes to the meter. The majority of the lines contain six syllables, conforming them to a pattern of iambic trimeter. The remaining few that are shorter are written in iambic dimeter, meaning that they have two sets of two syllables per line. A good example is line four of the first stanza.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The latter, allusion, is connected to Emily Dickinson’s personal life, the “other state” that she refers to in the first stanza, and the larger social world she dealt with during her lifetime. The “other state” that Dickinson is creatively leaving in this poem is that of spinsterhood. She was herself considered at the time this poem was written a spinster. Therefore it is very easy to consider Dickinson as the speaker, exploring what the differences are in privilege and happiness between being on one’s own or being a “wife”.
Enjambment is a very common technique in poetry. 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 as well as one and two of the third stanza.
Another important technique is alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “life looks” in line of the second stanza and “feels” and “folks” in lines three and four of the second stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that –
That other state –
I’m Czar – I’m “Woman” now –
It’s safer so –
In the first stanza of ‘I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that’ the speaker makes use of the line that later came to be used as the title. This was the case with the majority of Dickinson’s poems as she chose not to title them and the vast majority were published after her death. She describes in these first lines taking a different look at a way of living her life. The speaker decides to set aside her reality, that of an unmarried woman, and look at another way of being. She is “wife” now, “Czar” and wholly, as society thinks, “‘Woman’ now”.
Dickinson understands her own world very well. She is fully aware of the fact that being married is easier than being alone in the 19th century. It is “safer so” to be married than to live a spinster’s life.
How odd the Girl’s life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse –
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven – now –
Now, Dickinson takes a different look t the world. She imagines looking back at the life of a “girl” from “Behind this soft Eclipse”. This is an interesting line. The speaker is imagining looking at the world from the sunny side of an eclipse. The girl, whose on the other side, sees only darkness. This is another very poetic and figurative way of describing what the safety of marriage would be like. One is able to look at the world from a safe, warm, and bright position.
The image of the eclipse is then compared to the difference between heaven and earth. Those in heaven look down on the earth from the light while everyone on earth sees only darkness. The “folks in Heaven” are metaphorically compared to the life of a wife.
This being comfort – then
That other kind – was pain –
But why compare?
I’m “Wife”! Stop there!
The state of being married, as she has so far described, is more comfortable and warm. The “other kind,” the life of a spinster, “was pain”. This very clearly lays out one particular way of thinking about two ways of living one’s life. A reader should also consider how much of this writing they want to contribute to Dickinson’s own perspective on the world. Did she truly feel this way? If so, why not marry? If not, what inspired her to channel this persona?
The poem concludes abruptly with the speaker calling a stop to call comparisons between the two lives. She’s decided that she’s finished with being a spinster and is now “Wife,” that’s all there is to it. The line “But why compare?” could also be taken another way. It might be Dickinson interjecting, frustratedly insisting that there is no reason to compare the life of a wife to that of a single woman. One should not, in theory, be better or more important than the other.