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Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ was written in 1860 and is about the tension in a woman’s mind. She struggles between the roles of being a woman and a wife. In this poem, the speaker talks about her struggle to free herself from the mental slavery of being a wife. But in the end, she is left trapped in the same situation. Dickinson’s first poetry collection Poems (1890), which was published by T. W. Higginson and M. L. Todd included this poem under the title “Apocalypse.” Due to modern poetic standards, this version of the text differed in the punctuation usage, which significantly changed the meaning.
About the poet
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. She was known for her unique, short-lined, and unconventional poetry, often dealing with themes of death, immortality, aesthetics, society, nature, and spirituality. Her work became public after she died in 1886, with her first collection published in 1890. However, her work has been censored to exclude her sister-in-law, Susan.
I’m “wife”—I’ve finished that— That other state— I’m Czar—I’m “Woman” now— It’s safer so—
The speaker begins by stating that she has fulfilled her duty as a “wife,” implying that she has moved on from that stage of her life. She then refers to going into “that other state,” which indicates a change. The speaker states cryptically that she is now a “Czar” and “Woman,” meaning that her new identity grants her power and freedom. She concludes by claiming that being a “woman” is safer for her.
The poem represents women who challenge conventional society by disobeying ancient norms. Women are subjugated as subjects of their masters, and husbands, and are obliged to obey these conventions. The speaker, who wants to live as someone’s property, declares she has finished being a “wife.” Women go through various stages in their lives, each requiring them to please men and respect patriarchal norms. Each stage is filled with “otherness” that deters them from growing as they want. In the last two lines, the speaker declares herself the “Czar” of her own mind, living only with the title “woman” as she believes it is safer than being someone’s better half.
How odd the Girl’s life looks Behind this soft Eclipse— I think that Earth feels so To folks in Heaven—now—
In these lines, the speaker compares a girl’s existence to an “Eclipse.” She implies that, from the perspective of those living in Heaven, Earth may look equally puzzling. The mysteries and complexities of human existence are reflected in these lines.
In the second stanza, Dickinson highlights the intricacies of a woman’s life in patriarchal societies, where girls are seen as unequal and cannot match up with boys. She uses the metaphor of an eclipse to illustrate this idea, stating that girls’ lives are eclipsed by men’s domination, denying them opportunities and advancements. The speaker believes that an eclipse, an odd natural event, is often overlooked, and some men may take pity for women’s fate, similar to how people do to the “folks in Heaven” during an eclipse.
This being comfort—then That other kind—was pain— But why compare? I’m “Wife”! Stop there!
In these lines, the speaker reflects on the comfort of being a wife and implies that any other type of identity or experience, particularly one associated with pain or suffering, is not worth comparing to the position of a wife. She insists that she is a wife and implies that no further examination or comparison is necessary.
The third stanza contrasts the comfort of womanhood with being a wife, highlighting the pain of being single. However, this phase fades quickly as the freedom she gains as a single woman fades. She chooses a different partner and remarries. The poem can be interpreted as a chain of thoughts, with the speaker still feeling the same as a single woman. She declares, “I’m “Wife!”!”, capitalizing the first letter for emphasis and reminding her to think in that way firsthand.