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'What mystery pervades a well!' Analysis

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Connor O'Leary

on 8 December 2014

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Transcript of 'What mystery pervades a well!' Analysis

Stanza One
What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far -
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Stanza 2
Whose limit none has ever seen,
But just his lid of glass -
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!
Stanza 4
Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea—
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray
Stanza 3
The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
Thank you!
What mystery pervades a well!
Structure
Four stanzas – four lines each- Quatrain
Slant/ half rhyme- vowel of consonant sounds are identical – e.g ‘Far’ – ‘Jar’
The repeated "e" rhymes in the third and fourth stanzas - (he/me/be/sea).
Interrupted rhyme scheme where stanzas 2 and 4 don’t rhyme - Alienation - represent Dickinson’s thoughts conflicting on trying to understand nature.
Stanza 5
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
"What mystery pervades a
well
!
mystery because of its
depth and potential for
danger
That water lives so far - "
Personification
of nature
Man made vs. nature: 'well' & 'water'
Distance between nature
and mankind
"A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar"
'another world' - afterlife &
further distance between nature
and mankind
'Well' - needed for life
Starved of oxygen -> death
Constrictions
Entrapment
"Whose limit none has ever seen,
But just his lid of glass -"
Never-ending well -> abyss
barrier
Realisation that only surface
of water is visible
Unfathomable depths of the
well
Black hole
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!
Personification
Paradox / oxymoron
Ultimate horror
Stanza 6
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
Related somehow they may be,
The
s
edge
s
tands near the
s
ea
Sedge - grass like plant
that grows on wet ground.

Sea – eternity – never ending – link with being
shipwrecked in ‘It was not Death, for I stood up’ – “Or even no Report of Land-” and links to ‘Behind Me - dips Eternity-’ “A Crescent in the sea” - Nature - lost at sea - gentle/relaxation - drifting out to death.

Sibilance

Personification of the grass
standing - humanises nature-

Nature appears much more serene and tranquil;
the sedge betrays no timidity to stand so close to the sea. - wants to absorb the water - like Dickinson wants to absorb the knowledge of nature - though it is engulfed by mystery - a poem of mystery.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
‘he’ – sea/nature– Allegorical –
nameless - could represent all males.

Abyss – a sense of falling – like in ‘I felt a Funeral’ – “And I dropped down, and down –”

The ‘sedge’ has no
fear towards the sea
Enjambment- used to simulate this eternal
sense of falling. - However, it is the sea that is ‘floorless’ - bottomless depth - drowning

But nature is a stranger yet;
The one that cite her most

Nature is presented as inscrutable
because even those who are closest to it are overwhelmed by its complexity.


Nature has turned to a female - mother nature

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ - “And I, and Silence, some strange Race” – Alienation with Humanity

Nature is personified as a stranger – the closer you get to it, the less you know it.- Alienation with nature - Contrasts with the understanding in nature from ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ - “when in comes, the Landscape Listens –” – still wants to show comfort in nature, but is unable to.

Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

The passing of the house relates to
‘ Because I could not stop for Death –’ “ We paused before a House that seemed”

Scared of mother nature
– nature’s gothic side

Gothic – links to ‘ One need not be a chamber
– to be Haunted –’ “External Ghost” + “ One need not be a House –”

Afraid and timid to the
idea of belonging to nature

No one has been able to understand the
supernatural side of Dickinson/ Mother nature - the remaining spirit of nature.

death's relation to nature - Afterlife
(ghost - supernatural) is too complicated

Religious connotations of the ghost
could be God. Therefore, it could relate to the uncertainty of God’s existence.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret

Pathos – regret not knowing nature

Her – Dickinson – addresses herself in third person- disconnected from herself and from society

The rest of the stanza’s follow a female persona - more dominant than the male persona -“A narrow fellow in the grass” relies on phallic imagery, this poem is the feminine counterpart, and relies on yonic imagery.

The two dichotomies (something is divided into two opposing halves)
that are most useful in ‘What Mystery Pervades a Well!’ (as well as in some of the other Dickinson poems like ‘ It was not death, for I stood up’ – Light vs dark/ Hot vs cold) are natural vs artificial (man made) and female vs male.

That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

The closer you get to nature, the less you understand
– more questions are raised. – a sense of struggle.

Dickinson pities the men who try, and fail, to know Nature. These could be scientists or male poets, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau. They, being male, struggle to approach Nature with the attitude of awe

Paradox (paradoxical nature) - Once you get closer to nature/ the more you know it, the less you belong and know from it.

Death is an aspect of nature - implies
that to know nature fully is to be dead

Transcendentalism – is a religious and philosophical movement that
developed during the late 1820s and 30s in Eastern region of USA – Emily Dickinson was a transcendentalist - accepts these ideas not as religious beliefs but as a way of understanding life relationships. - they do not realise that nature's mysteries are ultimately unknowable.

No one knows/ understands her

'her' – Mother nature

Nature's power and how human creations
cannot compare
The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder
he
'grass' personified, masculine
Humans compared to vegetation
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
Common human fear of the unknown
Sense of awe(-inspiring) of nature
Profound danger, boundary between life and death
Further personification
of nature
Repetition of 'e'
'awe' - ambiguous
Nature as serene and tranquil
Two dichotomies
Natural vs. artificial / man-made
'water'
represented as female and ultimately incomprehensible
'mystery'
A dichotomy is when something is divided into two opposing halves
e.g. hot & cold, good & evil
two polarities
the nature dichotomy
man-made 'well' surrounds
feminine and mysterious 'water'
artificial unable to
contain its alienness
awe
speaker of poem pities those who
try (and fail) to comprehend nature
Nature confined to observation, as opposed
to comprehension
physical barrier between man and nature
Combination of the familiar
and the mysterious
familiar lid of glass
converted into 'an abyss's face'
concrete image of 'lid of glass'
to represent abstract concept of
nature's incomprehension and
complexity
concrete image of 'lid of glass'
dichotomy of femininity/
masculinity
common human fear
of the unknown
Does nature
have the ability
understand what
humans cannot?
Full transcript