A Loaded Gun

“My Life Had Stood a Loaded Gun” is not greeting card Emily Dickinson, nor is it the murmuring of the sweet, reclusive poetess you might have been told she was.

It’s a shocking poem, really. Within the regular scheme of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter, (you can learn a lot about the iambic line from this poem) lies an image of the loaded gun that is a woman who knew her power as a poet.

There are few better poems about the force of words (none stir the second time/on whom I fix my Yellow eye).

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him –
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without–the power to die–


10 thoughts on “A Loaded Gun

  1. Hi Bloglily,

    Such an interesting face… homely and waif-like in that wonderful old photograph but with powerful eyes.

    Who is the Owner to Dickinson? (Sorry, that part of my English education is sorely lacking.)


  2. That is very heavy and not at all like the Emily Dickinson I have come to expect.
    “And every time I speak for Him –
    The Mountains straight reply -”

    Evocative – terrorbly evocative.

  3. Oh my goodness, my heart stopped when I saw this post. This is one of my favourite poems ever, ever, ever. When I first came across it, in first year at university (a long time ago!), I copied it out by hand and stuck it onto my door. Over the years, the words transferred themselves from the paper to my memory. It has been in my head ever since. I am so happy to read it on your blog tonight. My favourite lines are: “For I have but the power to kill,/Without the power to die-“

  4. Hello Fencer — I think that’s a great question. My reading of the poem is that the I and he are both aspects of Dickinson’s self. The gun strikes me as being her creative power, and the “owner” is that part of her that directs this power.
    The great thing about reading poetry in the wild (I mean, not in school, not for a grade, not for a teacher, not to get it “right”) is that your reading can be as you like it to be and so if my reading is a bit clunky or overly obvious, it matters not one bit because it is, after all, part of the pleasure of the poem that it belongs to the reader, however they want it to.
    Archie, I’m so glad you found it evocative. I’ve been reading Dickinson a lot lately and find many of the poems powerful and arresting.
    litlove, It is a terrific portrait, isn’t it? I can’t imagine really what it would have been like to be her, but love trying.
    Helen and Nancy, Remarkable poems have a way of winding themselves around you and not letting go. Helen, that’s a really wonderful description of a reaction to a loved poem. That line — without the power to die — I wonder if that’s a description of how words outlive their speakers? It’s certainly true in Dickinson’s case.
    Courtney — I’m so glad you’re having a good lunchbreak. I’ve been a bit out of touch these days, which seem to be going over the speed limit I’ve tried to set on my life. I’m hoping over the holidays to try for a more leisurely pace!

  5. I like Emily. I had never come across this poem before. Very enjoyable. What I wish I could do when I write my poetry, and usually do not succeed in doing. Oh well.

    This kind of thing makes me very glad I am literate.

  6. Terrifying, inspiring poem. When I get home from work tonight, I’ll have to track down my Dickenson.
    “To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
    None stir the second time –
    On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
    Or an emphatic Thumb -”
    The poet as lioness.

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