September 22, 2004

Poem: Unpacked

Your riches taught me poverty....(click to read text of the poem, or see previous journal entry)

As the "title" of the poem implies, the speaker is talking to someone through the stanzas of the poem. "Your" riches taught me poverty points to someONE person, but whom? The person being spoken to has taught the speaker a life lesson, as implied by the first line. For some reason, this poem makes me think of "To His Coy Mistress", because in the first line of that poem the speaker is replying to the answer, "NO," given before the start of the poem. As we continue to unpack the poem, we learn that time is of the essence to the speaker. Repeatedly, words like "life's estate," "miss," "all day," "stint," "distance," "in time," "far far," "slipped," and "while" are employed in the texts. These words conjure imagines of time passing by the speaker in a manner that can not be controlled by the speaker's means. It is also interesting to note that the speaker, a woman, uses the word "dominion," which not only means a territory of control, but also a fixed amount of time. After mentioning dominions, the woman says, "a different Peru." At the time this poem was probably written, Peru had freshly achieved its independence. Is this speaker achieving independence? Does the speaker want independence? The first two stanzas span the continent of South America, dealing with predominantly Christian states which is interesting to note later in the poem.

The last stanzas continue spanning the world. These stanzas speak of queens, diadems, and Golconda. It is interesting to note, in the line prior to the Golconda reference the speaker says, "Might I be a Jew!" Perhaps the verb form of the word "jew" is employed here to mean haggle; note the capitalization, the noun format, perhaps to mean, haggler. Or does the speaker simply refer to some one who follows Judah? Golconda is mentioned immediately afterwards. It is connects to the words "queen," "wealth," "India," "diadem," and "gem." The religion practiced in Golconda was Muslim. Also, Golconda was known for diamonds nearby and the cutting of diamonds. So far the speaker has somehow alluded to all major religions, and spanned a series of continents.

All the gems in this poem, are what would be deemed "precious" or "semi-precious," however, at the end, the speaker calls what slipped through her hands "the pearl." Pearls are valued as gems, but are they really gems? They are formed from grains of sand and often deemed beautiful/of value. The speaker's "treasure," or "the pearl," is whomever is being addressed by the discourse of the poem.

Dickinson paints a picture of a woman remembering the lost love, "the pearl," "that slipped my simple fingers through." It is a sort of lament; however, the speaker has moved on from her girlhood ideal of a male companion. Though, I do believe the speaker will always "treasure" her "...pearl."


Posted by KatieAikins at September 22, 2004 10:02 PM

Katie- I liked reading the poem you picked from Emily Dickison. It reflects on wealth and how it changes a persons' status. This is what I think of it, but it can be interpreted more than one way.

Posted by: Nabila Uddin at September 27, 2004 2:22 PM


I never even thought of it that way, I was so caught up in the romantics and longing. That is a wonderful point, now I have to go reread it.

Thank you for pointing that out to me!

Posted by: Katie Aikins at October 4, 2004 9:47 PM

Katie, I agree- the poem does read as though Dickinson is communicating longing. There is a version of this poem in a book called "Open Me Carefully" which begins, "Dear Sue" The format is also interesting, it is chopped into smaller lines, some with only one word. It offers quite a bit of further insight into the meanings and layers of the poem.

Posted by: Keisha Nicole at April 28, 2006 3:47 AM