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Ironically reversing the image of herself as the helpless waif, Dickinson presents herself as "Royal," an "Empress of Calvary." Having sustained and learned from her suffering, she has mastered it. This is a love poem, but it is also an announcement of her power--her capacity to experience intense emotions and to survive their annihilating potential. Although her love has been unrequited, she has not been defeated by her suffering. She is not ruled by a master--she reigns over herself. As we have seen, the compensatory image of the queen in command of her energy appears repeatedly in Dickinson's poetry as an antidote to the destructive impact of romantic imagery on women. This poem also takes an ironic view of conventional marriage, revealing Dickinson's scorn for the loss of self women experience when they wed; there is a pun on "bridalled" and bridled, as the wife's expectations about her new life--"Born"--are contrasted with the reality of her now constricted world--"Shrouded." For Emily Dickinson, the wife's expectations of security in marriage are as illusory as the converted sinner's hopes of heaven.


From An American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1984 by The University of North Carolina Press.