Emily Dickinson's Capitalization and Punctuation

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The poetry of Emily Dickinson is one of the most recognizable of the 19th century. Dickinson’s poetry stands out because of its unconventional use of capitalization and punctuation. Her poems contain capitalized words which are not normally capitalized. Her poems are noted for the frequent use of the dash. Literary scholars have attempted to interpret Dickinson’s unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Some believe that it was merely part of Dickinson’s penmanship (Weisbuch 73). They therefore edit Dickinson’s poetry and publish them in standardized form. Others believe that the capitalization and punctuation were a conscious effort on Dickinson’s part. These scholars notice the little nuances of Dickinson’s dashes, such as whether…show more content…
However, Dickinson is not consistent in her capitalization (Porter 140). She does not capitalize every single noun. As demonstrated above, the word “light” is not capitalized. Furthermore, Dickinson also capitalizes words which are not nouns, as seen in lines 4 – 6 of “He fumbles at your Soul”. The word “ethereal” is an adjective, but Dickinson chooses to capitalize it.
He stuns you by degrees — Prepares your brittle Nature For the Ethereal Blow
The capitalized words are the key words of the poem. They add weight to the lines, tipping the balance of the poetic rhythm. The reader is invited to ponder over their meaning and significance (Miller 59). The capitalization gives Dickinson’s poems concreteness and symbolism (Miller 58). The reader’s attention is drawn to these capitalized words. They form an image in the reader’s mind. For example, in the first example, the capitalized words are Slant, Winter, Afternoons, Heft, Cathedral, and Tunes. These words alone evoke the image of a cold and lonely day which burdens the heart like the heavy and mournful tones of an organ. Just words “Winter Afternoons” carry sensations of frigidness, bleakness, and loneliness. “Winter Afternoons” set the scene and describe the mood (Porter 141). The words “Ethereal Blow” strike the reader as an oxymoron. Ethereal implies something light, delicate, and
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