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The poem “In a Library” is written by Emily Dickinson. The poem is set when the persona finds herself in a library and loses all track of time. The poem talks about the timelessness of a good book. The narrator gets so engrossed in the literary world that time seems to slip away. The poem suggests that old books, through their timeless stories, serve as a means for the persona to escape from the realities of life. The poem celebrates the immersive and transporting quality of literature, emphasizing how books have the power to disconnect us from the present and transport us to different realms.
About the poet
Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was a prominent American poet. She was an important influence on American Literature. She had published numerous poems, including “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, “Because I could not stop for Death” and “A Bird came down the Walk”. She captures moments of nature in a vivid and insightful manner. Dickinson’s ability to convey complex ideas with simplicity has contributed to her enduring influence in the realm of American poetry.
The poem is written in seven quatrains, stanza each consisting of four lines.
A precious, mouldering pleasure 'tis To meet an antique Book, In just the dress his century wore; A privilege, I think,
The poet starts by talking about how pleasant it is to find an antique book in a library. Describing the book as wearing a “Dress” of its “Century” suggests that it carries the distinctive characteristics and style of the time it was written. The poet sees this encounter with an antique book as a privilege, implying that there’s something special and valuable about connecting with literature from a bygone era.
The poem starts on a positive note. The poet talks about how pleasurable it is to “meet” an antique book. Here she personifies the book as if it is an old acquaintance. The book is described as wearing a dress. Here the dress could be a reference to the vellum covers on old classic books. The poet believes herself to be privileged to hold the book.
His venerable hand to take, And warming in our own, A passage back, or two, to make To times when he was young.
The poet, after discovering the antique book, goes on to physically hold it in her hands. By expressing that the book “warms” her hand, she conveys a sense of connection and intimacy with the past. The act of holding the book becomes a tangible experience that transcends time. When she mentions it takes her “once and twice to the past,” she is emphasizing how reading the book allows her to journey back in time, experiencing the historical and nostalgic aspects embedded in its pages.
The poet calls holding the book as holding “His Venerable Hand”. She is personifying the book and giving it a position of respect and authority. The book is held in her hands and feels its warmth. The book makes the poet travel back in time to when it was written. It makes her travel once or twice. Once to when the book was newly written and second time to the story in the book.
His quaint opinions to inspect His knowledge to unfold On what concerns our mutual mind, The literature of old;
In this stanza the poet talks about the contents of the book. The poet finds “quaint opinions” that she can inspect. This implies that the book holds unique and charming perspectives or ideas. The poet also finds knowledge within its pages, suggesting that the book imparts valuable information or insights. When she mentions “mutual thoughts,” it signifies a shared understanding or connection with the ideas presented in the book. By referring to the book as a “classic literature book,” the poet acknowledges that it is an old literature.
The poet finds opinions in the book and thinks them quaint. She wants to think about them and debate on them. She feels like exploring the knowledge that the book has to offer. She finds mutual topics in the book. The eagerness to explore the knowledge the book offers suggests a curiosity and openness to new ideas. When the poet mentions finding mutual topics in the book, it suggests a connection or shared understanding with the themes presented. By labeling the book as a “book of old literature,” the poet emphasizes its historical and classic nature
What interested scholars most, What competitions ran When Plato was a certainty. And Sophocles a man;
This stanza talks about the past that the book describes. She is interested in knowing what old scholars thought about. Specifically, she mentions a curiosity about the time when both Plato and Sophocles, prominent figures in ancient history, were alive. This indicates a fascination with the intellectual and cultural milieu of that historical period. The poet is essentially seeking insights into the perspectives and ideas that shaped the minds of these ancient scholars.
The poet travels back to the past and talks about the philosophers and scholars in ancient times. She wishes to know about the time when Plato and Sophocles were alive. Plato is well-known for his contributions to philosophy, especially his dialogues and teachings. Sophocles, on the other hand, is celebrated for his dramatic works, particularly Greek tragedies like “Oedipus Rex.” By expressing a desire to know more about the time when these influential figures lived, the poet is indicating a curiosity about the intellectual and cultural landscape of Ancient Greece.
When Sappho was a living girl, And Beatrice wore The gown that Dante deified. Facts, centuries before,
The poem makes allusions to Sappho, a poet in Ancient Greece. The poet wishes to know about her and her works. The next reference is to Beatrice, who was the beloved of Dante Alighieri. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy. Through his works, Dante “deified” Beatrice, i.e. described her as a goddess. All of this happened centuries before the poet was born.
In this stanza, the poet continues her exploration of the past, mentioning two more historical figures: the poet Sappho and Dante Alighieri’s beloved Beatrice. Sappho was an ancient Greek poet known for her lyric poetry, and Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet from the Middle Ages famous for his epic work “The Divine Comedy,” where Beatrice is a significant character. The poet wants to know about the time when all of them were alive, centuries before her.
He traverses familiar, As one should come to town And tell you all your dreams were true; He lived where dreams were sown.
The poet talks about how the ancient book holds familiar ideas and allows people to read and learn about them. It comes into town and shows through its stories amazing and fantastic things and “dreams”. The poet says that the book comes from a place of dreams. The book talks about amazing things and fantastical stories. The book describes stories of dreams and imagination.
In this passage, the book is portrayed as a traveler, carrying with it familiar ideas. As it arrives in the “town,” it unfolds tales of wonder and fantastical stories. These stories are described as narratives of dreams and imagination. Essentially, the book is depicted as a source of extraordinary and imaginative content, bringing the reader into a realm where fantastical tales and creative narratives take center stage. It conveys the notion that literature has the power to transport readers to magical and dreamlike landscapes through its storytelling.
His presence is enchantment, You beg him not to go; Old volumes shake their vellum heads And tantalize, just so.
The poet finds the presence of the book enchanting and wishes to never leave it. She does not want to leave the book but knows that the stories will come to an end. The old books shackle their heads and wave her goodbye.
The poet is enchanted by the ancient book. She does not want to leave the library as it is an escape from reality for her. But she knows that it must come to an end. She wants to stay in the stories created by the books. She wants to stay in the library but she knows that it can not happen. She says that the old books shake and wave their vellum covers as if saying goodbye to her.