‘This is my letter to the world’ was written sometime in the early 1860s and published after Dickinson’s death. It is named for its first line, a common practice as Dickinson did not title any of her poems. Dickinson’s personal life is often cited when readers and scholars speak about this poem. It focuses on feelings of isolation and alienation and Dickinson lived a life that was both. She was mostly a recluse during her lifetime, despite this fact, the speaker cannot explicitly be described as Dickinson herself.
Explore This is my letter to the world
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker describes the act of writing a letter. She says she’s written the word a letter (a symbol perhaps for all of Dickinson’s poetry) but the world has not extended her the same courtesy. The speaker has not been acknowledged as she thinks she should. The poem concludes with Dickinson’s speaker saying that she’s been caught up in transcribing what “Nature” has told her and has therefore neglected to grow close to other people.
Dickinson explores themes of writing, isolation, and community in ‘This is my letter to the world’. In the first lines, it becomes clear that the speaker is isolated, either by her fault or the neglect of others. She sees herself as being separate, something which evokes feelings of loneliness and alienation. But, despite this fact, she still feels as though she’s part of a community—the human community. She writes her poems, acting as a conduit, relaying Nature’s message.
Structure and Form
‘This is my letter to the world’ by Emily Dickinson is an eight-line poem contained within one single stanza of text. The lines follow the standard form of a ballad stanza. This means that they rhyme ABCB. The “A” and “C” end sounds change in the second quatrain but the “B” rhymes do not.
As with standard ballad meter, the poem is made up of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The odd-numbered lines contain four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. The even-numbered lines are in iambic trimeter. This means that they each contain three sets of two beats with the same arrangement of stresses.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘This is my letter to the world’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, personification, and caesura. The first of these, alliteration, is seen through the use and reuse of the same sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “never,” “news,” and “Nature” in lines two and three.
Caesura is seen through an intentional break in the middle of a line. One example can be seen in the seventh line which reads: “For love of her, sweet countrymen”. Personification is used clearly and effectively in the third line when the speaker describes that “Nature” told her news.
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
In the first lines of ‘This is my letter to the world’ the speaker begins by describing how she wrote to the world but it never wrote back. This is likely a reference to Dickinson’s own poetry. She devoted herself to writing and sent that writing out into the world (although the vast majority of her poems were published after her death). She told the world what “Nature,” a good example of personification, told her. Plus, she did it with “tender majesty”.
It’s clear from these first lines that the speaker is isolated. She has spent her life devoted to one thing and has therefore not cultivated any relationships with anyone else.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Nature’s message is “committed / to hands I cannot see,” the speaker says in the next lines. This is a description of the “hands” of the world. The writing she’s done, which came from Nature’s inspiration, belongs now to those she doesn’t even know. It’s very likely that the speaker’s all-consuming passion for writing is what sets her apart from the rest of the world. It alienated her from the very people she’s writing to and for.
In the last lines, she uses the word “countrymen,” meaning community members. She’s referring to the world community, a group she still feels like she’s a part of despite her broader feelings of alienation.
Isolation and loneliness are common themes in poetry. There are numerous other poems that express these feelings. Some poets pose solutions while others find their speakers in hopeless situations. Some examples include ‘Alone’ by Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and ‘Ode on Solitude’ by Alexander Pope. Additionally, you might be interested in reading more poems about poetry and what it means to those who write it. Check out ‘Sonnet 1: Loving in truth’ the first of the Astrophil and Stella sonnets by Philip Sidney as well as Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging‘.