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The poem “My Life Had stood a Loaded Gun” was written by Emily Dickinson in the 19th century. The poem’s first line, as well as its title (because Dickinson didn’t title her poems, they are frequently referred to by their first lines), features one of her most recognizable imageries.
The poem, which was written in 1863, is vague and has several possible interpretations. Many academics, however, concur on an interpretation of the poem in which the Owner stands in for the speaker’s inner fury and the Loaded Gun serves as an extended metaphor for the speaker.
About the Poet
American poet Emily Elizabeth Dickinson lived from December 10, 1830, to May 15, 1886. Although she was not well-known when she was alive, she is now acknowledged as one of the most significant individuals in American poetry.
Dickinson was born into a well-known family with deep links to the neighborhood in Amherst, Massachusetts. She spent her early years studying at the Amherst Academy for seven years, then went to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for a short time before returning to the Amherst home of her family.
My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - In Corners - till a Day The Owner passed - identified - And carried Me away -
Dickinson begins the opening verse of “My Life Had stood – a Loaded Gun” with one of her most recognizable calling cards, a dash. It separates “a Loaded Gun” from “My Life had stood.” Dickinson frequently wrote difficult poetry. She has a reputation for changing the grammar of sentences, which makes the lines sound more poetic but also more difficult to follow. The parataxis is an approach.
Her speaker is saying that their life “had stood” in a corner like a “Loaded Gun” in this particular circumstance. The reader can infer from these sentences that the speaker believes she is apart from her own life. She is picturing it as its own force after zooming away from it. It takes on a persona and gains agency that “life” as a pure force would not typically have.
Loaded guns have a reputation for being dangerous, but they also represent a medium ground. The gun is neither passive nor active at the same time. Until something happened, her life continued there in a sort of purgatorial waiting room. When the “Owner” walks by, a specific “Day” takes place. Uncertain how, the “Life” and the “Owner” recognize one another, and the “Life” is taken off in a vehicle.
In the fourth line, the speaker and her life are finally united. She now calls the two of them “Me” together. The husband who has sufficient influence to help the speaker’s life get out of the corner is the most likely candidate when all the possible readings of this “Owner” are taken into account.
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods - And now We hunt the Doe - And every time I speak for Him The Mountains straight reply -
After picking up the female speaker, the spouse or owner can now “roam in Sovereign Woods” with her. Again, there are many interpretations for this sentence, but it most likely alludes to the male-dominated environment she is now required to enter. Remember that the speaker is claimed to be “hunting the Doe” in the second line. A doe is always a female deer, which is a crucial distinction.
She is able to witness the erasure of women because she interacts with the world of men. The following two lines are a little ambiguous, especially when the reader is looking for a deeper meaning. She claims that every time she “speaks for Him,” pulls the trigger, or speaks for herself in a society where men predominate, she is met by “The Mountains.”
They immediately respond, or echo, with a response. Her voice is redirected to her alone, having no effect on the wider world. She might receive a “direct reply” as a taunt or be reprimanded for being arrogant.
And do I smile, such cordial light Opon the Valley glow - It is as a Vesuvian face Had let it’s pleasure through -
Readers must continue to consider the use of a rifle and a woman’s customary status in society as they read the third stanza. She grins, and the speaker says that “a friendly light” shines “Upon the Valley.” Another allusion is made to the “Mountains” in the second verse here.
She is able to withdraw from the forceful language of the second stanza and revert to the dispassionate façade that men anticipate from women. The next lines discuss the second mode of existence. Rather than showing her “Vesuvian face,” she opted to “smile.” If she had chosen the latter, her joy would have instead erupted upon a valley in the shape of volcanic anger.
And when at Night - Our good Day done - I guard My Master’s Head - ’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s Deep Pillow - to have shared -
In the fourth stanza, this day in a husband and wife’s existence comes to an end. The wife, as a gun, remains there at her “Master’s Head” throughout the night as she prepares to retire for the evening after their “good Day done.” The speaker claims that the husband’s rifle, which protects him as he sleeps, is more crucial to his slumber than an “Eider Duck’s / Deep Pillow.”
The speaker again breaks away from the conventional life of a wife in this stanza. She is positioned close to her husband’s head, possibly on the wall, as opposed to sharing a pillow with him. The phrase “Eider Duck” refers to a kind of duck that plucks its own feathers off its body to build a nest.
It sort of kills itself to make itself more comfortable. This illustrates how the speaker is removing the characteristics that define her as a “wife” in an effort to improve her overall condition.
To foe of His - I’m deadly foe - None stir the second time - On whom I lay a Yellow Eye - Or an emphatic Thumb -
The most violent stanza of “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun” is the fifth. She is described as being “deadly” to “foe of His” and any others who are similar to them. She possesses a power that occasionally oozes from the pistol and knocks anyone in its line of sight to the ground. Do not “stir the second time” around obstructions.
Readers may ponder if, in light of the other stanzas, the speaker will eventually switch from being a deadly foe to “His” opponents to a dangerous foe to “Him.” The gun is described as going off in the final two lines of the verse, triggered by the “emphatic Thumb” and visible as a burst of “Yellow” from the “Eye” or barrel.
These expressions could also be used to express the speaker’s personal views on the world. This relates to the third stanza’s occult “Vesuvian face.” It is strong when it first appears.
Though I than He - may longer live He longer must - than I - For I have but the power to kill, Without - the power to die –
Another complicated stanza is the sixth. The speaker laments the fact that she will outlive “Him.” This is because she is still physically present as a gun. She is not pleased because the existence of people is what gives her words life. He must live longer than she does in order for her words to endure and be read by future generations.
Right now, it appears impossible for this to be possible. She discusses her acts as a “gun” or as a speaker, writer, and life narrator in the last few lines. She can make statements, use harsh words, and even murder someone, but she can never take back a decision. The speaker simultaneously wishes she would pass away before her “Owner” while being glad to survive him.