Historical Criticism on “Through the Dark Sod” by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was a prolific and reserved writer. Her style of writing left the reader responsible to dissect the underlying meanings within her writing as her word choices included ambiguity, symbolism, and art. In “Through the Dark Sod” the reader learns of the historical background hidden in the work as the title alone leaves the reader to ponder on the author’s intention in composing the piece. Emily Dickinson reveals much about her childhood, her beliefs and the impact the events of the society of that period had on her.

The social and cultural atmosphere at the time Dickinson wrote this piece was a world filled with war and political imbalances. Slavery was prohibited in British colonies in 1833. During the time this piece was composed, Dickinson’s personal life entailed of her love for her solitude.

She did not see herself as other people portrayed her. She kept to herself and was not family oriented. She found that her mother was not as nurturing as one would expect a mother to be with her daughter. Her father, a lawyer, turned active politician pushed religion on Dickinson and she rejected it. She may have considered the political injustice in her society and reacted to it in that manner.

The dark sod in Dickinson’s piece refers to grass or turf. She mentions that “through the dark sod – as education, the Lily passes sure.” There, the reader can discern that she is describing Amherst College, the college her grandfather founded. Her father served as Treasurer there as well. 

The Lily, as Dickinson mentions, represents herself which can be implied by the capitalization of the first letter to make it a proper noun. Dickinson was known for wearing all white. She reflects on that preference in the second line of her piece describing, “the Lily passes sure.” Lily is utilized as a symbol for white, synonymous with purity. The reader can infer that she desired white for its association to purity. Lilies are associated with funerals as well to symbolize that the soul of the departed has received restored innocence after death.

A doggone good read.

Line three begins the confessional where Dickinson speaks on the lack of fear she has after feeling the lily in the grass under her foot. That highlights her carefree, nonchalant attitude towards anything other than writing.  These factors of Dickinson’s life influenced the poem by the symbolic manner in which she highlighted various areas of her life.

She speaks on her religion stating, “Her faith, no fear” in line four which described her disinterest in any religious activity as well. She often disengaged from family functions and activities and opted to stay home alone. Her father’s paradigm was to make it his duty to instill religious beliefs on his children. Dickinson’s family members were not considered proletariats but they were not considered bourgeoisie either.

She moves on in the piece to a different scene where she swung her Beryl Bell, which could be a white or pale mineral found in the earth. Line seven highlights “the mold-life” which can be deduced symbolically to Dickinson’s illness which eventually led to her death where she transcends to “ecstasy” in line eight in a valley with trees and grass she describes as “Dell.” Ecstasy and Dell are capitalized to be taken as proper places instead of states of being.

Dickinson shows how she was influenced by her family and the events of the world of her time in this piece. Her distinctive style of writing challenges the reader to read attentively. Her piece surprises the reader due to its ambiguity.

What do you grasp from reading “Through the Dark Sod?” How does Emily Dickinson’ s other pieces stand out to you, if any? 

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