Renunciation by Emily Dickinson: Summary and Critical Analysis

This poem Renunciation by Emily Dickinson describes a mood of calmness and tranquility. This is a symbolic poem which refers to Christ’s death. Lamb in the poem is very symbolic in the sense that it symbolizes the Christ. The poetess has referred to summer season in this poem. Tranquility prevailed everywhere. It was the most fruitful time for saints. The poetess hoped to achieve solaced to her soul.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The sunlight reached the greatest distance. Flowers spread their fragrance and aroma-symbolizing towards creation and newness. Tranquility is the symbol of death when the sound is needless. The ‘wardrobe’ in the poem symbolizes the grave when the Lord Christ rests. Christ’s life is the sum total of sacrifice and renunciation. His tranquility inspires human race- forbearance and tolerance even at the cost of torture, sufferings and pains. Man is bond to rest in grave and keeps silence after his death as Christ got.

The grave is the fate of all. Worldly pleasure, pelf and power are illusions. One should be ready to enunciate all these for the cause of human race. Christ’s life is a great light to people acquiring for peace and spiritual upliftment. Here Dickinson has given reference to Christ and his grave. After death Jesus Christ has kept mum. There is tranquility everywhere. This tranquility itself is the symbol of death. Wardrobe symbolizes grave. The philosophy of birth and death is concealed here.

In the concluding stanza of the poem "Renunciation" Emily Dickinson has expressed her deep feeling towards life. The first line points out rising i.e., the action of people. But the second line turns form life to grave which is death. The third and fourth lines refer to marriage and love. All these seem to be contradictory of each other. But these are the basic factors of human life which we can’t escape. After entering the grave, there is union between the soul and God. This union symbolizes new marriage- the fruit of love. These lines are very philosophical and very meaningful in this poem.

Structurally, the poem moves from that physical plane towards the spiritual plane. The broken unequal lines of the poem reflect the agony and suffering which Renunciation brings in its wake. As one who has renounced the best that this world could offer, Emily Dickinson was most suited to write on the agony of Renunciation.

"Renunciation" presupposes a possessive hold of certain rights to pleasures and privileges a human being has. To be able to give up these pleasures requires a superior virtue, for it involves a denial to oneself what is here and now for the sake of some intangible expectation, a mere abstraction. While describing "Renunciation'' as a virtue, Emily Dickinson's use of the word "Piercing" is significant. The word in the sense of "Sharp and penetrating" has some faint sexual undertones. It, however, underlines the meaning that renunciation is a delightfully painful virtue. In physical terms, it means a denial oneself the pleasures that are immediately available for the sake of sonic expectations of unborn tomorrows. In another metaphor, Emily Dickinson says that Renunciation is like denying one's eyes the splendor and radiance of the sunrise, because it opposes the splendor of the creator himself.

The second stanza redefines renunciation in terms of the emotional experience of Renunciation and the spiritual bliss and contentment that follow it. According to John B. Pickard the three uses of the word "itself”- has three different semantic connotations: First it means that man chooses renunciation in spite of himself, or in spite of his emotions and physical desires urging him not to renounce. The second use of ‘itself' suggests the total personality of man (body and soul) "to be justified or regenerated in the God. The third use of "itself"' suggests spiritual or moral force of the human soul which wills Renunciation in spite of the emotional and physical hardships.

The larger function is the spiritual hope that makes all other narrow functions and pleasures of lite here, appear smaller and therefore of less consequence. But the temporal pleasures are smaller, real and more desirable and therefore they make Renunciation more difficult and denial of those pleasures more regretful.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Renunciation by Emily Dickinson: Summary and Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 9 Nov. 2013,