Emily Dickinson shared with other Romantic poets, American and European, the intuition that the age of reason had run its course and had failed to bring the hoped-for illumination and order. In the new century, as the focus turned toward self, the feelings of the individual tended to replace authority and schema in the measure of truth and beauty. From the beginning, Dickinson's poetry reflects the poet's awareness that emotional sensations occur in various dimensions within the consciousness, so that joy and grief, for example, or exultation and fear, may combine in single complex reactions. The most intense emotions, in fact. are frequently the most paradoxical. The combination of emotional opposites would become characteristic in Dickinson's poetry, and it is in fact the indivisible unity of terror and ecstasy which constituted what Dickinson considered the most intense emotion of all, what she called "awe."


This essay is reprinted by permission of the author and the American Transcendental Quarterly.



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