My Life Had Stood – a Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson is a poem that has confused many. The title of this poem can create a lot of confusion as it is not a proper title.
All of the poems by Emily Dickinson lacked a proper title and hence we had to creatively give them their due titles; the first line of the poem.
When you read the poem, you are very likely to be perplexed by the meaning of the poem. What is Emily Dickinson trying to convey? What is the meaning of the poem?
Let’s take a look at the poem first, and then we will explain the exact meaning of the poem and why so many other “experts” get it wrong.
My Life Had Stood – a Loaded Gun – by Emily Dickinson
A Bird, came down the Walk - He did not know I saw - He bit an Angle Worm in halves And ate the fellow, raw, And then, he drank a Dew From a convenient Grass - And then hopped sidewise to the Wall To let a Beetle pass - He glanced with rapid eyes, That hurried all abroad - They looked like frightened Beads, I thought, He stirred his Velvet Head. - Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb, And he unrolled his feathers, And rowed him softer Home - Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam, Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, Leap, plashless as they swim.
I am a loaded gun and my life stood in a corner Until a day when the owners passed and identified me and carried me away. Now instead of standing idle we rode around Sovereign Woods and hunt the deer and every time he fires me, mountains echo the blast of the gun When when I am fired, I give a warm light that makes the valley glow and makes it look like the Vesuvian face (a Volcano) erupting with lava At night after the hunting is done I guard my master’s head It is even better than sharing the Eider Duck’s pillow I am a deadly foe to his foe No one dares to move again on whom I am pointed towards or even fired at Though I will live longer than my master I ensure that he will live more than me for I have the power to kill But I can risk it all since I cannot die
Meaning of the Poem
Alright, let’s get into the meat of the matter. What does the poem mean? Is there any subtle meaning behind all the obvious lines?
Is Dickinson trying to talk about inner rage, or about the oppression of women, or in some convoluted ways trying to explore the complex and meandering paths of the human psyche that presents challenges at every turn and is ever so magnificently complicated?
No. It is just about the personification of a gun and how it would perceive things differently than living things that have the fear of “death.”
The gun had no job before, so it just stood loaded in a corner. But then someone who wanted to use the gun found it and used it.
The poem is told from the perspective of a gun, which has been personified. Since it has no understanding of death, everything that is fatal to humans is beautiful for it.
From the cordial glow of firing the gun to the loud bang of shooting, these are all the things that are very normal for the gun, but fatal for living things.
The gun, if personified, will be very different from us. It enjoys its nature, and it likes whatever it does. It is like a loyal dog, doing whatever its master makes it do.
The final lines of the poem explain a lot. It says that it can only kill but never die. This line shows that since it cannot die, all the “fatal” things for humans would be beautiful for it.
Stanza by Stanza Analysis
We have seen multiple articles about the different interpretations and meanings of the poem but sadly, most of them are incorrect.
Dickinson did not write this poem to be read by scholars and decoded using all their mental prowess.
The purpose of the poem was only one; the personification of a gun and the beauty that the gun sees in its life, rather than the destruction it can bring to the people.
The poem is spoken from the perspective of a gun and how it sees the world. It is very interesting to note that the things that we perceive as violent, the gun finds beautiful.
Let’s analyze the poem stanza by stanza and see what the poem actually means in detail.
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –
The poem starts with the gun saying that its life has just stood in corners and it did nothing. That was until the owner passed it and identified what it could do and carried it away.
And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply –
We get to know the adventures of the owner who took the gun on. He moved into Sovereign woods and hunted animals, mostly. The next line is where things start to get interesting.
Every time the gun spoke for him meant that every time the gun was fired, the sound of the shot echoed through the mountains.
For the gun, the entire experience of shooting is completely different, if the gun were alive and conscious. It “talks” and the mountains “talk” back.
And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through –
The gun then says that whenever it smiles, there is a warm, cordial glow that lights up the valley and makes it look like the Vesuvian volcano erupting with lava.
Note how the things that are horrible for living beings are so different from a gun. It considers the flow of firing to be cordial and warm, while the eruption of the volcano to be beautiful.
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 –
After this is gone and the night has come, the gun knows what to do. Its task is to be by the master’s head and protect him from all the dangers that might come. It is better than any other comfort a pillow can give.
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 gun is behaving like a watchful, protective dog to the owner. It says that since I am to protect my master, all of his foes are my foes too.
It tells us how powerful it can be. No one can dare to make a move again once the gun is pointed at them, or worse if the gun is fired at them.
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 –
The final stanza of the poem explains a lot about why the gun thinks the way it is thinking. The gun wants to ensure that the owner must live longer than itself. Even though it knows that it will live longer.
The gun says that it will ensure that the master lives longer at all costs. It is ready to kill as it is not afraid to die. It knows that it cannot die.
And that was the end of the poem and its analysis. Remember that the poem is not about some complex or latent human suffering or the oppression of women. It is just about the personification of a gun.
Stay a Little Longer?
Here ares some other poem analysis of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Choose from the options: