February 12-18: Poems on Entitle

On Choosing the Poems

Dickinson’s intense series of letters to Samuel Bowles, discussed in the weekly post, set a theme for these poems. In Letter 250, she sends Bowles a copy of “Title divine – is mine!,” a poem she wrote in 1861, but which we have chosen at the keynote poem for a week exploring a crucial topic for Dickinson: entitlement and power. She frequently explores the ideas of titles and royalty, and their inversions, as entangled with power dynamics, gender issues, questions of religious salvation, class, and love.

Every poem for this week displays some form of Dickinson’s play with entitlement. “Title divine – is mine!” suggests that the very notion of power is inseparable from religion, as nearly all of its imagery of royalty is matched with a corresponding religious modifier: “Empress of Calvary,” for instance. “For this – accepted breath -” also touches on religious royalty, but focuses on the power of nature as well, especially during the “perennial” summer months that, the poem suggests, may go on eternally.

Dickinson also thought about power in terms of ownership and being owned. Entitlement, she muses, can be a source of heavenly power, whether one is entitled or the object of entitlement, and is the only credential needed to be worthy of praise and of the highest heaven. Dickinson puts this notion into dialogue with class differentiation in “The court is far away,” and questions what one would have to own to be entitled, if anything at all.

“Of Bronze and Blaze” further complicates Dickinson’s ideas of power. Loneliness, legacy, and a sense of universal presence unlocks a door to having the utmost control over oneself, but the subtle “Taints of Majesty” tell us that power, entitlement, and degree are not necessarily the best things in the world, or the most notable and lasting.

“I’m ceded – I’ve stopped / being Their’s -” concludes this group as a mirror to “Title divine – is mine!” The poem, a grand declaration of independence, refuses divine power and Christianity in favor of self-baptized and self-claimed power that comes from the speaker simply speaking it into existence, becoming a source of authorization herself. This poem collapses all notion of heavenly hierarchy that “Title divine” sets up, replacing it with something anarchic in how the “half-conscious Queen” rules her kingdom.