Mind over Matter in Emily Dickinson’s Poem “What I see not, I better see”

February 21st, 2011

During the first read of Emily Dickinson’s poem number “869” or “What I see not, I better see” it is observed that the speaker is partial to the minds imagination over physical imagery. The irony of being able to see more clearly in the dark than in light is present in the first line of the poem: “What I see not, I better see” (1). This favor for darkness over light can be a direct response to the photographic culture that was appearing at that time. Since a photograph is produced as a negative, which becomes clear when exposed to light, light is what provides the reality of the image. Dickinson in her poem is commenting that this reality is not true reality, and ironically reality is clearer in the darkness of your own mind.

Dickinson makes it clear that she values her own minds perception over the perceptions that can physically be absorbed with her senses when she writes: “For frequent, all my sense obscured” (5). This line reflects Dickinson’s argument that we can trust what we seen in our own mind because our senses sometimes fail us, and we can not be certain to whether or not what we are seeing is reality. What we can trust is our own perception that is clear in our mind. Dickinson writes: “Till jealous Daylight interrupt-/ And mar thy perfectness” (11-12) she is expressing the relatable feeling of the morning soiling a pleasant dream, and using that analogy for what the photographic culture is doing: replicating copies of reality in the attempted to provide a subjective experience, which Dickinson denounces as a capability.

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One Response to “Mind over Matter in Emily Dickinson’s Poem “What I see not, I better see””

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    Mind over Matter in Emily Dickinson’s Poem “What I see not, I better see” at Cassie’s Senior Seminar Blog

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