Abstract

After Emily Dickinson’s father died in 1874, she wrote to her editor T.W. Higginson to thank him for his poem “Decoration”: it had, she claimed, “assisted that Pause of Space which I call ‘Father’- .” But just how did “Decoration,” a traditional elegy that reaffirmed the location of the dead in the graveyard and the literary work, inspire Dickinson to coin this mesmerizing construct, a phrase which reflects upon the temporal and spatial absences of the dead? That “Pause of Space,” I argue, functions as a rebuke to the ideas that inform Higginson’s poem and as a catalyst for Dickinson’s idiosyncratic discourse of mourning. I first examine theories of elegy, which define it as a form that enacts a consolatory turn from the lost beloved to the creation of a poem, a move that mirrors what Freud called “the work of mourning” and that Dickinson does not accept. I compare Higginson’s “Decoration” with Dickinson’s own version (written three years later), in which Dickinson refutes Higginson’s premise in an attack on elegy’s fixation with spatial locality. I then focus on the temporal aspect of Dickinson’s “Pause of Space” construct, analyzing “While we were fearing it, it came” (Fr1317), in which Dickinson creates a vocabulary that repeatedly undoes itself over the course of the poem and, in the process, generates a new form of elegy.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1096-858X
Print ISSN
1059-6879
Pages
pp. 52-71
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-17
Open Access
No
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