It is not difficult to pinpoint individual poems by Dickinson where nature emerges as an obvious transcendent force. Her poem #214 I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed (Perkins, 990) utilizes an obvious metaphorical dynamic: the speaker of the poem is drunk on elements of nature: Inebriate of Air ” am I ” / And Debauchee of Dew (Perkins, 990) and the exuberance of the speaker is meant to be both humorous and extreme.
The poem strikes a comic tone, due to Dickinsons belief that the comic or humorous is no less serious than the tragic (Eberwein 150) and in her mind, the depths of human existence could never be climbed, would never be plumbed, without a humorous attenuation to the world (Eberwein 150). The humor in poem #214 is meant to emerge from the irony of a speaker blatantly celebrating their drunkeness. Despite the poems comical overtones, the theme of the poem is, in fact, quite serious. The poems theme is that nature is a gate through which ecstacy is reached.
The true irony of the poem is that liquor is superfluous to true ecstacy; all that is needed is nature itself. In this way, Dickinson is casting a criticism on her societys reliance on artificial stimulants. Nature will endure where actual liquor runs dry: When Landlords turn the drunken Bee/Out of the Foxgloves door /When Butterflies ” renounce their drams / I shall but drink the more! (Perkins, 990) The seriousness of the poems theme is in the implied isolation of the speaker, who is acknowledged only by the Seraphs and Saints (Perkins, 990) who watch the little Tippler / Leaning against the ” Sun - (Perkins, 990).
It is impossible to escape the feeling that Leaning against the ” Sun (Perkins, 990) is a dangerous position even fro an ecstatic poet; so while the poem demonstrates transcendence, it also expresses isolation and alienation. By contrast, Dickinsons poem # 328, A Bird came down the Walk (Perkins, 995) begins with a sense of alienation and rigid realistic description and opens toward the end to a transcendentalist vision of nature. The beginning line describe how a bid hopped on the speakers walk and bit an Angleworm in halves (Perkins, 995).
The poets observation that the bird ate the fellow, raw, (Perkins, 995) suggests anything but a transcendental vision of nature. rather, the scene evokes a stark, biologically precise depiction of natural processes. Nevertheless, a duplicity of perception is hinted at in the following lines And then he drank a Dew /From a convenient Grass / And then hopped sidewise to the Wall/ To let a Beetle pass (Perkins, 995) where the previously predatory scene gives way to one of civility and calm.
The duplicity of perception is extended by the phrase Like one in danger, Cautious (Perkins, 995) which may modify either the preceding He stirred his Velvet Head or the following I offered him a Crumb, hence either the bird or the speaker or both (Eberwein 85) and, as such, admits an ambiguity into the poems diction which is foreshadowed by the imagery.
This ambiguity is not quite resolved, but merely turned toward an image of transcendent nature in the poems closing lines: Too silver for a seam /Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon/ Leap, plashless as they swim (Perkins, 995). Whereas poem #214 began with a blatant expression of intoxicated transcendence and ended with an ambiguity of isolation and alienation, poem # 328 begins with a sense of alienation and even violence,but resolves in a harmonious, transcendental uplift of diction and imagery.
Obviously, Dickinson aim in her poetry was to represent the duality of human perception and the duality of the natural world which can be resolved in aesthetic expression, but not by methods based solely on rationalism or realism.
Eberwein, Jane Donahue, ed. An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Perkins, George; Perkins, Barbara. The American Tradition in Literature 11th Edition 2007