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Poem 508, probably composed a year or so before "My life had stood--a Loaded Gun--," describes her psychological metamorphosis in terms of two baptisms which conferred name and identity: the first the sacramental baptism in the patriarchal church when she was an unknowing and helpless baby; the second a self-baptism into areas of personality conventionally associated with the masculine, an act of choice and will undertaken in full consciousness, or, perhaps more accurately, into full consciousness. Since Emily Dickinson was not a member of the church and had never been baptized as child or adult, the baptism is a metaphor for marking stages and transitions in self-awareness and identity. The poem is not a love poem or a religious poem, as its first editors thought in 1890, but a poem of sexual or psychological politics enacted in the convolutions of the psyche. . . .


From "Emily Dickinson and the Deerslayer: The Dilemma of the Woman poet in America." In Shakespeare’s Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Copyright © 1979 by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.