Decoding the Symbolism in Emily Dickinson's Poems

Emily Dickinson was an enigmatic figure in the world of poetry. Her poetry often puzzled readers because of the obscure symbols and imagery that she used. However, her unique style and powerful emotions have made her an enduring favorite of scholars and casual readers alike.

In this article, we will delve deep into the world of Emily Dickinson's poetry and try to decode the symbolism that she used. We will explore both the common symbols that appear in her poetry and the more obscure ones that can be found in some of her lesser-known works.

Dickinson's Life and Poetry

Before we delve into the symbols that Dickinson uses, it's important to understand the context of her life and the themes that permeate her poetry.

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Massachusetts and spent most of her life in seclusion. She rarely left her home and had few friends or social interactions. Instead, she devoted herself to writing poetry, which she composed nearly every day for more than two decades.

Because of her seclusion, Dickinson's poetry often focuses on loneliness, death, and the fleeting nature of life. However, she also wrote about love, nature, and spirituality in her work.

Common Symbols in Dickinson's Poetry

One of the most common symbols in Dickinson's poetry is the use of bird imagery. Birds represent freedom, spirits, and transcendence in her poetry. In "Hope is the Thing with Feathers," Dickinson writes:

"Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,"

Here, the bird represents hope - something that is both fleeting and precious - and shows how it can lift the spirit even in the darkest of moments.

Another common symbol in Dickinson's poetry is the use of flowers. Flowers appear in many of her poems, and their meaning can vary depending on the context. However, they are often used to represent beauty, life, and growth. In "I taste a liquor never brewed," Dickinson writes:

"I taste a liquor never brewed – From Tankards scooped in Pearl – Not all the Vats upon the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol!"

Here, the liquor represents the intense beauty of nature, which can seem almost intoxicating in its intensity.

Obscure Symbols in Dickinson's Poetry

While bird and flower imagery may be some of the most common symbols in Dickinson's poetry, there are many more obscure symbols that can be found in her work as well. For example, in "A narrow Fellow in the Grass," Dickinson writes about a snake:

"A narrow fellow in the grass Occasionally rides; You may have met him, – did you not, His notice sudden is."

Here, the snake represents both danger and beauty. The snake is something to be feared, but it is also beautiful and fascinating to behold.

Similarly, in "Because I could not stop for Death," Dickinson uses the image of a carriage to represent the journey that we all must take at the end of our lives:

"Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality."

Here, the carriage represents the journey to the afterlife, and immortality represents the eternal nature of the soul.


In conclusion, Emily Dickinson was a master of symbolism in her poetry. Her work is full of both common and obscure symbols that add depth and meaning to her words. Whether she was writing about love, death, or the beauty of nature, Dickinson's poetry always managed to capture the emotional complexity of the human experience.

If you want to read more of Emily Dickinson's work, be sure to check out her collected poems. And if you're interested in learning more about the symbolism in other classic works of literature, be sure to check out for more articles and insights!

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