Although much of the recent work on Emily Dickinson’s material poetics has focused on the poet’s manuscripts, the field has seen a resurgence of interest in the role of meter, rhythm, and sound in Dickinson’s poetry. This essay argues that both the turn toward sound in Dickinson’s work and historical readings of her poetry must consider the aesthetics of oral performance. The author presents a system of “musical scansion” that enables an analysis of both metrical and temporal relationships in Dickinson’s poems through the use of musical notation. The temporal and rhythmic characteristics of several of Dickinson’s idiosyncratic poetic techniques (polysyllabic abstraction, dashes, irregular rhyme) have a decided effect on oral performance. The essay also focuses on the tension between abstract rhythmic structures and the implicit aesthetic singularity of any recitation. Through multiple scansions of the poem “If I should’nt be alive” (Fr210), the author explores the possibilities of performance that exist between the extremes of reading with or against a poem’s underlying metrical-musical structure.


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pp. 24-45
Launched on MUSE
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