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Poetry Analysis by Paul Rance: Heaven Is What I Cannot Reach! by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was America's first female poet to achieve nationwide acclaim, and the title of her poem, 'Heaven Is What I Cannot Reach!', is self-explanatory, with the descriptions in the poem echoing the title.

Unusual Use of Punctuation

This is a poem that has a very unusual use of punctuation. The dominance of hyphens in the poem gives it a staccato quality. It also gives the poetry a breathless feel. There is a feeling of excitement in the way Emily describes things on Earth which she finds heavenly. Cleverly, she mentions things that, at the time, are out of reach. For example, there is an apple in a tree that she can't quite reach, and she is a fair distance away from her home.

Emily Dickinson begins the poem by thinking about the apple on a tree. It is tantalizingly close to being in her grasp, but she can only admire it, albeit with some exasperation. The apple reminds Emily that heaven is similarly out of reach. We can't really find heaven on Earth, though sometimes we may feel that we are close to doing so. So, as long as the apple hangs on the tree, then Emily's heaven analogy remains true.

A Sense of Joy

But, there is a sense of joy in Emily's writing, as she still believes that heaven will eventually come. Like a child waiting for Christmas, the poet struggles to contain her patience. Emily finds a comfort in the waiting, as she thinks that the waiting will prove to have been worth it.

In the second verse, Emily writes about the beauty of color on a cloud. Then the poem continues to describe nature, with a beautiful twist at the end of the verse, as Emily leads us to her family home. To her, her home is "Paradise". But, at the time of her writing this poem, her home is still far away.

The third and final verse is the most intriguing of all. There is a comparison between how either the fickleness of human nature and/or nature itself can disappoint us. This verse could be about a woman spurning a man, or letting down a friend, or about a day that begins with nature at its finest, before the weather deteriorates. Thus, something good, like the apple and heaven, gives us hope, but we find is out of reach.

Playful Writing

'Heaven Is What I Cannot Reach!' is a poem of three four line verses. It is also playfully deceptive in its rhyming structure, as only the second and fourth lines of the first verse rhyme. The meter is written in a way that leads the reader into expecting a rhyme that doesn't come. This is in keeping with the playfulness of the overall writing in the poem.

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Emily Dickinson Books

The Complete Poems ~ Emily Dickinson
0330376500 Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes ~ Billy Collins
The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Wordsworth Poetry Library) The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Wordsworth Poetry Library) ~ Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson ~ Ted Hughes Emily Dickinson ~ Ted Hughes

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