‘Why Do I Love You, Sir’ by Emily Dickinson is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first two stanzas contain five lines, the third: six, and the final: four.
As is the case with much of Dickinson’s poetry, there is a clear conversation between the speaker and God, or with wider religious ideologies. She is known to have, throughout her life, dealt with conflict within her faith. This piece is one that sits on one side of her religious divide. It is a devotional poem, filled with references to the greatness of God and made up of attempts to depict her own love for him.
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Summary of Why Do I Love You, Sir
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she loves God because it is a natural thing to do. She is the grass, he is the wind, and he moves her. There is no why or how about it. There is another natural example that works in the same way in the third stanza. She is the eye that closes when the lightning flashes. It does not ask the eye “wherefore,” or why, it closed. It knows the eye couldn’t answer if it tried. The reason is beyond words.
Dickinson ends the poem by saying that she loves God because he exists. He is the sunrise she reacts to.
Rhyme in Why Do I Love You, Sir
There is not one single pattern of rhyme within the text. Rather, Dickinson chose to make use of scattered instances of rhyme in order to provide the text with some rhythmic unity, but not get bogged down by a particular structure. This technique also ensures that the focus remains on the images and their meanings. Some examples of rhyme in the text are the endings of lines three, four, and five of the first stanza. Then at the end of the fourth stanza with “Me” and “see.”
There are also moments of half, or slant rhyme in the text. These are instances in which endings, or words within the lines, are connected by assonance or consonance, aka vowel or consonant sounds. An example of this is at the end of lines three and six in the third stanza.
Dickinson’s Dashes and Capitalization
Scholars are divided over what Dickinson’s dashes and capitalization could mean. But in this case, the dashes, which are prominent in the last line, are easily read as moments in which the speaker was overwhelmed and/or pausing for dramatic emphasis. It is also a way for the reader, and Dickinson herself, to gather their thoughts together before moving on to the next word.
One should also consider the use of capitalization in these lines. This is another technique that Dickinson is known for, and which causes confusion among students and scholars alike. There is no single definitive reason why Dickinson capitalized on the words she did. Often, those she chose were the most prominent of the lines, the ones that were the most evocative and meaningful. Most of the capitalized words in this piece relate directly to God and are capitalized in order to show reverence.
Analysis of Why Do I Love You Sir
“Why do I love” You, Sir?
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer—Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.
From the first lines of ‘Why Do I Love You, Sir’ the speaker makes a comparison between nature and God. It seems as though these natural reference, to “The Wind” or “The Lightning” are necessary for her to adequately express her emotions.
She opens the poem with the phrase that came to be used as the title. This introduction provides the background for the poem, and the question which must be answered in the following lines. The speaker intends to provide God with all the reasons that she loves him.
The first natural scene she refers to is the way that “Grass,” representative of the speaker, is moved by the “The Wind,” or God. The wind doesn’t need the grass “To answer” when it passes. Her love is a natural one, she reacts without choice as God moves her.
Because He knows—and
Do not You—
And We know not—
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so—
The next stanza of ‘Why Do I Love You, Sir’ also contains five lines. It is more confusing though as the syntax is jumbled and out of order. In its simplest form, the lines are saying that God, and the religious faith within her heart, are what provide her with wisdom. She is not able to fully comprehend God, or what he does and mean. His love is enough for her.
The Lightning—never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut—when He was by—
Because He knows it cannot speak—
And reasons not contained—
There be—preferred by Daintier Folk—
The third stanza is the longest, at six lines. Here, Dickinson uses another metaphor to describe the reactions within her own body to the love of God. She again uses nature to depict her feelings in regard to faith. She states that “The Lightning” never asks “an Eye” why it shut when the light strikes. The answer is obvious, no one needs to ask. This is the same natural feeling that was depicted in the first stanza with the wind and grass.
The “Lightning,” personified as God by the speaker, knows that the eye can’t speak. It is incapable of verbalizing a real reason for closing. The “Talk” that some, the “Daintier Folk,” want to participate in is impossible. The reasons are “not contained.” No one can speak about them.
The Sunrise—Sire—compelleth Me—
Because He’s Sunrise—and I see—
I love Thee—
The last stanza of ‘Why Do I Love You, Sir’ is the shortest, at only four lines. Despite the complicated syntax, the speaker’s love is really quite simple. Still speaking directly to God, she tells him that when the sun comes up, she sees it and is “compelled.” It is a simple reaction. “He’s Sunrise,” and she is connected to his presence.
In the most straightforward of terms, she says that “I see…/ Therefore—Then— / I love Thee—“ Rather than the complicated answer a reader might’ve expected in the first lines, the speaker narrowed it down to the simple fact that he exists and she loves him.