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Whereas Emerson and Dickinson are both drawn to the vision of an imminent power that smoulders undetected, Dickinson "personalizes" this vision. Volcanic force is no longer associated with universal man as in "The American Scholar," but, instead, with the single life. Power does not run through all of us, as Emerson maintains; furthermore, it cannot be apprehended by anyone who observes the seemingly quiet, single self. The one soul which animates all men now stands isolated and alone. . . . This single life erupts irrevocably. Hidden, mysterious, still, the power floods mechanically; corals "part and shut"—destroying cities. What distinguishes this from Emerson's volcano is Dickinson ' s insistence on secrecy, on individuality, and on destruction. The poems will go further to identify this oral potency with both poetry and the self.

Moreover, Dickinson's practice of defining her self against Emerson's while drawing upon his language recurs in varying forms. Although she may alter the thrust of an Emersonian image or impose her own priorities on his diction, the new poem lies hidden in its parent text. Characteristically, a Dickinson poem takes an example that Emerson introduces into an essay and invests it with the strength of a subversive, anti-Emersonian vision.


From Dickinson and the Romantic Imagination. Copyright © 1981 by Princeton UP