‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson is a sweet love poem. Dickinson writes the poem in a manner that the “Happy letter” seems to be a companion of the speaker. In the poem, the speaker is not the only person who is writing the letter. The letter itself and the poetic persona participate in the process of writing. The childish naivety and the pure romanticism of the persona make her words so dear to the readers. We don’t know whether the letter has reached the hands of the recipient or not. It has surely found a place in our hearts.
Summary of The Letter
‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson depicts the surge of emotions in the speaker’s heart while she writes a letter to her lover. In the poem, the poetic persona starts to talk with the letter which she has finished a while ago. She treats the letter not as an object. It seems to be one of her companions.
The speaker feels happy as the letter is going to meet her beloved. The speaker urges the letter to tell her lover how she struggled with words while writing the letter. She wants to share her feelings to the person for whom the letter is written. If there are any mistakes from her side, she wishes the letter must defend her. Her beloved should know that she could not even sleep last night to finish the letter. At last the poetess requests the letter not to tell her beloved where she has been hiding it. She wants to keep it a secret. Yet it is an open secret to the readers!
You can read the full poem The Letter here.
Structure and Form of The Letter
‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson is a free verse poem. It contains three stanzas and the stanzas have eight lines each. There are a total of 24 lines in the poem. Each line has a set pattern for maintaining the metrical composition of the poem. There is not any specific rhyme scheme in the poem. Only the sixth and eighth lines of each stanza rhyme together. The rhyme used in these lines is definitely slant rhyme, a recurrent characteristic of Dickinson’s poems. In the first stanza “slow” and “so”, in the next stanza, “there” and “silenter”, and in the last one “hid” and “head” rhyme altogether.
The poem appears to be an example of a dramatic monologue. Only the speaker is present and the auditor is a silent participant in the whole conversation. Readers can easily guess the setting of the poem by reading the description and images used in the poem. The poetic persona is sitting at her writing desk and looking at the letter which she has written. She starts to imagine the situation when the letter reaches her lover. What she thinks is in front of us in this poem.
Sound and Meter of The Letter
‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful composition with respect to the meter and sound pattern of the poem. The metrical composition of the poem illustrates the speaker’s state of mind in an excellent manner. The metrical pattern of the poem resembles the anxiety and excitement in the poetic persona’s heart. The trochaic meter or the falling rhythm at the beginning of most of the lines suggests the excitement for her beloved. Then comes the iambic meter to portray the tension pumping in her heart. What will he (beloved) think? What will be his reaction? Such questions flood the speaker’s mind and the rhythm in each line follows her mental atmosphere.
After scanning the poem, it becomes clear to the readers, the meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter with some variations. The significant variation is at the beginning of most of the lines. It is a trochee. There are few lines in which the syllable count exceeds 10. These lines have a hypermetrical ending. Readers find a spondee in the sixth line of the first stanza. The last foot of this line, “slow, slow” has two stressed syllables in it.
Literary Devices in The Letter
‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson contains a variety of literary devices. Those rhetorical devices make the poet’s argument appealing to the readers. Let us have a look at the figurative language used in the poem.
- Stanza 1: In the first line of the stanza there is an apostrophe. Here the poet addresses the letter directly as if it is her living companion. For this reason, it is also a use of personification. The next literary device which is visible in the following lines is anaphora. There is a synecdoche as the poet refers to her “fingers” instead of her mind. Readers can find a metaphor in the use of the word, “waded”. The poet is pointing to her mental state while she was writing by using this metaphor.
- Stanza 2: In the second stanza of the poem “sentence” is personified. There is a metaphor in the phrase “the might of a child”. Here the implicit reference is to the speaker’s passion and feelings for the beloved. There is a hyperbole in the line, “For it would split his heart to know it”. Readers come across a pathetic fallacy in the line, “You almost pitied it…” Here the “letter” seems to be a human being having the ability to pity the speaker’s condition.
- Stanza 3: In the last stanza of the poem readers come across a personification in the second line. Here the clock is personified. There is a rhetorical question or interrogation in the following line, “What could it hinder so, to say?” At the penultimate line, the poet makes use of the climax in an innovative manner. This device heightens the mood of the poem before parting. It is like a good-bye treat to the readers. This line can also be seen as a periphrasis of saying “no” to someone.
Analysis of The Letter
“Going to him! Happy letter! Tell him —
Tell him the page I didn’t write;
Tell him I only said the syntax,
And left the verb and the pronoun out.
Tell him just how the fingers hurried,
Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow;
And then you wished you had eyes in your pages,
So you could see what moved them so.
In ‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson the poetic persona is happy as her adorable letter is going to her beloved. By reading the first few lines of the poem, it seems that the speaker is nervous at the same time excited. She thinks that the letter is not the perfect one she wishes to write. It may disgrace her beloved’s emotions. That’s why she is requesting the letter to defend her when her lover will be reading it.
She wants to tell her love how her fingers struggled in search of words. Her fingers moved like they were in a water body. It is not an uncommon phenomenon for lovers. Readers can understand it deeply. However, the mode of messaging has changed nowadays. Still, they can sense the pain of our speaker. At last, the poetic persona says that the letter might have wished to see what was troubling her while writing.
“Tell him it wasn’t a practised writer,
You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled;
You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,
As if it held but the might of a child;
You almost pitied it, you, it worked so.
Tell him — No, you may quibble there,
For it would split his heart to know it,
And then you and I were silenter.
In the second section of the poem, the poet insists the letter to tell “him”, she was not professional enough in writing such letters. It is a roundabout way of saying, he is her first love. Her sweetheart can also guess by looking at her sentence construction. She is not lying by the way. She was very much tense while writing each of the sentences for her beloved. Readers can sense her anxious hours in the following lines, “You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,/ As if it held but the might of a child”.
In this section, the letter seems to be acting as a close friend of the writer. It pitied her condition while she was writing the letter last night. The speaker assumes that the letter cannot portray her true emotions to her boyfriend. If the letter fails to convey her feelings, she will be dejected. The purpose of writing the letter will also go in vain.
“Tell him night finished before we finished,
And the old clock kept neighing ‘day!’
And you got sleepy and begged to be ended —
What could it hinder so, to say?
Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious,
But if he ask where you are hid
Until to-morrow, — happy letter!
Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!”
The speaker has not lost her hope yet. She is optimistic about winning his heart by the letter. She has been writing since last night. Her labor and the true emotions of her heart cannot be unfruitful. So she urges her inanimate friend to tell him about the toil she has gone through. She believes that he can understand her feelings to him.
The next section accentuates the mood of the poem. At the same time, it brings a smile to the readers. Isn’t it right? In this stanza, the speaker requests the letter not to tell her beloved where she was hiding it until tomorrow. She wants to keep it between themselves. At last, the poetess resorts to a figurative way to tell the readers that she is neither going to say it in the poem nor to her love. It is a secret!
Historical Context of The Letter
‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson came to print in the year 1896. It was published in her poem collection, “The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two”. This poem belongs to the American literature of the 19th century. This poem was probably written before 1861. Emily Dickinson was an introvert in nature and lived most of her life in seclusion. She preferred to be alone rather than enjoying life like an extrovert. Little is known about her love life. In her teenage life, there might be someone for whom the poem is dedicated. It can also be an experiment with the theme of love as she had done in her early poetic years.
There are various poems of English Literature that are correlated with the theme and subject matter of ‘The Letter’ by Emily Dickinson. We can consider the following poems keeping the idea of Dickinson’s poem in mind.
- Sonnet 1 by Sir Philip Sidney – Sidney’s Sonnet no. 1 is similar to the subject matter of ‘The Letter’. The mental condition of the speaker resembles that of Dickinson’s poem.
- A Text About Reading The Letter by Riyas Qurana – The similar subject of writing a letter to one’s beloved, reflects in this poem by Qurana. A comparative study of both of the texts helps a reader to understand different emotions used in the poems.
- This is my letter to the world by Emily Dickinson – This poem from Dickinson’s poetic treasury contrasts her understanding and thinking pattern in ‘The Letter’.
- Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley – To perceive the theme of love comprehensively readers should not ignore Shelley’s poem. The theme mentioned above is also an integral part of ‘The Letter’.
You can read about 10 of the Best Emily Dickinson Poems here.