Emily Dickinson’s poem “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ affection!” explores complex themes related to”,”completion”:”, emotional intimacy, and the possibility of”,”completion”:” over time. In just five compact stanzas, Dickinson manages to challenge conventional notions about relationships and evoke deeper questions about human nature.
“Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ affection!” originally appeared in Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts sometime between 1858 and 1866, but it was not published during her lifetime. The poem experiments with unusual syntax and punctuation to convey meaning. Dickinson also uses irony and metaphor to further her commentary on marriage and affection.
Rearrange a Wife’s Affection Poem
Rearrange a “Wife’s” Affection!
When they dislocate my Brain!
Amputate my freckled Bosom!
Make me bearded like a man!
Blush, my spirit, in thy Fastness –
Blush, my unacknowledged clay –
Seven years of troth have taught thee
More than Wifehood every may!
Love that never leaped its socket –
Trust entrenched in narrow pain –
Constancy thro’ fire – awarded –
Anguish – bare of anodyne!
Burden – borne so far triumphant –
None suspect me of the crown,
For I wear the “Thorns” till Sunset –
Then – my Diadem put on.
Big my Secret but it’s bandaged –
It will never get away
Till the Day its Weary Keeper
Leads it through the Grave to thee.
The poem explores themes of love, possession, and patriarchy.
The poem centers around the idea of manipulating a wife’s love against her will. This suggests affection within marriage is not freely given but controlled through societal constraints and power imbalances. The speaker feels trapped in her partnership, hinting that prescribed Victorian roles limit emotional connections between husbands and wives.
- Vivid imagery of distorting the wife’s body symbolizes forcibly changing her emotional bonds.
- References to hiding the speaker’s identity and secret sorrow indicate she cannot fully love or be loved by her partner within the confines of marriage.
The speaker refers to herself as her husband’s “clay”, dehumanizing her as an object to be physically and emotionally molded to his liking. This implies wives lose autonomy and ownership over their minds, bodies and feelings once entering marriage. The poem challenges ideas of women as their husband’s property.
- The line “Rearrange a Wife’s affection” presents love as something that can be manipulated against her will.
- Calling herself “unacknowledged clay” conveys she feels her essential self is unseen and disregarded by her husband.
The poem emphasizes how women faced immense societal pressure to conform to restrictive stereotypical gender roles within Victorian marriage. Their duty was obedience to husbands and relinquishing personal identity to serve as model wives. This power imbalance severely limited women’s self-expression.
- The speaker cries out against being forced to become “bearded like a man”, attacking rigid expectations of femininity.
- Capitalizing “Wifehood” critiques an institution valuing women only for their adherence to wifely duties.
- Hiding her “Secret” self illustrates wives could not openly share their whole identities.
The poem speaks of a wife’s affection that can be rearranged, suggesting that love is something that can be easily controlled or manipulated.
The concept of “rearranging” a wife’s love implies affection is not freely experienced in marriage but purposefully positioned to meet social conventions and gender hierarchies. The wife has no agency over her own emotions. This critique suggests genuine relationships should involve mutual vulnerability and respect between partners.
The poem uses vivid imagery and metaphors to convey the depth of the speaker’s emotions and the complexity of their relationship.
Startling metaphors like amputating body parts and bearing masculine features emphasize the pain felt by wives pressured to abandon integral aspects of self to conform to stereotypical roles. The poem gives voice to suppressed perspectives on the oppressive, damaging elements of Victorian marriage. The intense language reveals depths of sorrow, anger and loss at intimate relationships limiting rather than supporting women’s identity.
In the first stanza of Dickinson’s poem, the use of exclamation marks heightens the sense of outrage, while strong verbs like “dislocate” and “Amputate” convey emotional and physical distress. The line “Make me bearded like a man!” directly challenges 19th-century gender norms, symbolizing a desire to break free from societal constraints on women.
“Blush, my spirit, in thy Fastness – Blush, my unacknowledged clay -” suggests a deep introspection and a sense of shame or unrecognition about her own body and spirit.
The poet reflects on her seven years of betrothal, implying that this period has taught her more about the realities of womanhood and marriage than conventional “Wifehood” could ever impart.
The stanza paints a picture of love and trust that are confined and unfulfilled, as suggested by “Love that never leaped its socket” and “Trust entrenched in narrow pain.”
In “Blush, my spirit, in thy Fastness – Blush, my unacknowledged clay -,” Dickinson engages in deep introspection, expressing feelings of shame or disconnect with her body and spirit. This internal conflict mirrors broader societal issues, where a woman’s true self is often unrecognized or undervalued.
The reflection on her seven-year betrothal further underscores this theme. Here, Dickinson suggests that her personal experiences have provided her with a more profound understanding of womanhood and marriage than traditional notions of “Wifehood” ever could, highlighting a disconnect between societal expectations and individual reality.
In this stanza, Dickinson metaphorically portrays herself as someone carrying a crown of thorns, a symbol of enduring suffering in silence. This imagery reflects a stoic acceptance of pain, concealed from the world’s gaze.
The depiction of wearing “Thorns” until sunset and later donning a “Diadem” carries the symbolic weight of enduring suffering in silence throughout one’s lifetime, with the aspiration of eventual recognition or liberation in death.
In this stanza, Dickinson unveils a profound, personal secret or burden, implying that it will remain concealed until her passing, when it will be revealed in the afterlife (“Leads it through the Grave to thee”).
Dickinson’s Special Achievement
Emily Dickinson’s work stands out for its boldness and individualism, especially considering the restrictive Victorian era’s norms. Her willingness to explore personal and universal themes broke away from the decorum of her time.
As a woman poet in a male-dominated field, Dickinson’s achievements are particularly noteworthy. She not only deviated from the typical themes and styles of her time but also laid a foundation for feminist thought in literature.
Emily Dickinson’s poem “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ affection!” is a rich example of her poetic craftsmanship, employing several literary devices to convey her message effectively:
1. Metaphor: In the fourth stanza, Dickinson uses the metaphor of a “crown of thorns” to symbolize the silent suffering and endurance she experiences. This metaphor draws a powerful parallel between her personal pain and the symbolic suffering of Christ during his crucifixion.
2. Hyperbole: Throughout the poem, Dickinson employs exclamation marks at the end of certain lines. This hyperbolic use of punctuation intensifies the emotional depth of her expressions, emphasizing the outrage and turmoil she feels. For example, “Amputate my freckled Bosom!” is made even more forceful by the exclamation mark.
3. Personification: In the third stanza, Dickinson personifies love, suggesting that it has a physical presence and the ability to “leap.” This personification adds depth to the description of love’s limitations and constraints.
Dickinson’s vivid poem explores oppressive Victorian gender hierarchies that coerce wives to abandon selfhood by rearranging their “affection”. Through unsettling metaphors examining love, identity and repression, the speaker gives voice to silenced perspectives on marriage’s damaging demands. Ultimately the poem conveys that without mutual vulnerability and respect between partners, genuine affection cannot thrive.