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Emily Dickinson's Idiosyncratic Use of the Bible and Definition of Related Religious Subjects



Emily Dickinson's writing reflects features of religion which had an embedded influence on her contemporary thinking, norms, ideas about gender roles, and language. In Dickinson's cultural, religious, and social milieu framed within the context of the theological system, she was instructed not only to adhere to the gospel principles and fixed interpretations of the Bible but also to yield to established religious authority in the definition and usage of scripture and language. She read Noah Webster's dictionary, which reflects his "encouragement of quietude and deference" in orthodox religion, "as a priest his breviary." She also "couldn't get along very well without" the Bible in her early life. Nevertheless, to Dickinson, who recognized the mighty ability of the brain, the power of words, and the possible confinement of inculcated beliefs, conformity to dull received definitions, interpretations, and usage was unacceptable. This article argues that many of Dickinson's writings reveal her intention not to be "still" in the closet of revealed religion or received notions but to be heir to Puritan constant self-examination, to actively interrogate her religious inheritance, to pass beyond the confines of established definitions, and to explore and search for truths, thereby often demonstrating her unique, inspiring, and multiple perspectives on religious themes and concepts. Poems composed by a poet with a "nimble" and unconfined brain that can divine alternative and multifaceted perceptions of religious subjects may initially appear to be exegesis or definition verse in which she tries to expound religious beliefs. In fact, however, they often conclude without an exact or final resolution and present nonconformist thinking that sometimes directly challenges, suspends, and subverts settled definitions, interpretations, or explications. In effect, Dickinson often enacts the role of a midwife, who does not directly present wisdom or instruct truths but invites an examination of received beliefs and offers insight into those explored or defined.

Parallel abstracts

艾蜜莉.狄菫蓀(Emily Dickinson)的作品反映了對她所處年代的思想、行為、社會規範、性別角色和語言都有著深遠影響的宗教特徵。在神學體系構築的文化、宗教和社會環境中,她自幼就被教導需謹守公認的福音書教義與遵從宗教權威規範的聖經引用,以及宗教概念的定義。聖經和諾亞.韋伯斯特(Noah Webster)引用聖經釋義的辭典,就像牧師的每日祈禱書般,是狄菫蓀孩童時期生活中不可或缺的。然而,狄菫蓀難以接受被動地遵循呆板的定義,解釋和用法。本文探討狄菫蓀承襲清教徒不斷研讀、思考、主動察驗神的話語之傳統,不輕率接受反覆宣揚的教義和想法,拒絕將心靈執著靜置在念想來世的美好與永恆。狄菫蓀不試圖支配他人的思想,也不輕視或排除差異看法,她並不想要告訴人們應該相信什麼。取而代之的是,她經常跳脫傳統宗教框架,從不同的角度審視查驗既定的信條,探索宗教思想的真理(特別是在實際生活層面的意義),於現世與現實生活方面去剖析宗教的意義。她的定義詩經常一開始似乎是意於闡明宗教觀念,但往往沒有給予最終的定(結)論就結束,有時甚至直接挑戰、暫緩和顛覆既定的詮(解)釋。在相關的宗教概念定義詩作中,狄菫蓀經常扮演著助產士的角色:不直接表達智慧知識或傳授真理,而是鼓勵讀者審視接收到的教義與看法是否富含真理。


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Deppman, Jed. “‘I Could Not Have Defined the Change’: Rereading Dickinson’s Definition Poetry.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, 2002, pp. 49-80.
Dickinson, Emily. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1986. 3 vols.
Hoefel, Roseanne. “Emily Dickinson Fleshing Out a New Word.” Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 1992, pp. 54-75.