My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —
In Corners — till a Day
The Owner passed — identified —
And carried Me away —

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods —
And now We hunt the Doe —
And every time I speak for Him —
The Mountains straight reply —

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow —
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through —

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 —

To foe of His — I’m deadly foe —
None stir the second time —
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye —
Or an emphatic Thumb —

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 —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —

15 Comments

  1. Camilla says:

    I read this as being about faith – that Dickinson had the inner strength and potential (the gift of words and her writing) and the companion she speaks who ‘carried her away’ was not repressing her or stifling her but God (note the capitalisation in all references to Him and He) finally ‘starting’ her life.

  2. Lifelive says:

    Papa Smurf does not speak for all Canadians… maybe only the stupid ones. I love Dickinson.

  3. Susan says:

    This is about life long rage. She is the gun and she has had to be reclusive and live unnoticed, in corners of the rooms of her life. Had she been a man she may have had the opportunity to express herself in public, but in her society that was not possible.

    She protects her patriarchal family and society by not expressing herself, but at the greatest cost to her – she has no agency, and this is the cause of her rage. In public she is the dutiful daughter, and even with the false smile – false because it is Vesuvian (after Mt. Vesuvius, which is a volcano which erupts, and when it does – did – it killed everyone – how much rage is that!)

    Even at night she has to protect the paternal image. To have shared that soft pillow made of goose down would smother her, so she stays guarded and doesn’t sleep on what looks so soft but is so dangerous.

    She is so committed to keeping her stoical place in the paternal society that she will defend it – she is foe to anyone who is foe to “him.” The emphatic thumb, that one can suck for comfort as a child can also have a “Freudian” interpretation, of something that is swollen, and the Vesuvian spew can be thought of that way as well. This doesn’t mean that she had sexual relations with her father – rather that she is so enraged that she is stuck in the secondary role, only as guardian or protector of those who keep her from the freedom of being her own person – and she has to do this seemingly willingly.

    And then in the last paragraph, she states that even though she could outlive her father, her family, men in general, she had better die first because the world is not a big enough place for both (all) of them and she would like to kill except that she has been taught that she must not. And she cannot even kill herself because that is also forbidden.

    She is in a box from where there is no escape. This is not a love poem. This is a poem that shows anger in its rawest form. This is pure rage.

  4. Sneha says:

    There is a hidden, subversive anger.. the tone of which is not very direct, for instance , like in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Emily Dickinson mocks at the phallogocentric world.. where the man is the precursor and the deciding factor to what a woman is supposed to do. The symbols of being a loaded gun ,also , a doe … signify uselessness and the inner conflict felt as a woman. Also, the symbol of dove is a very gentle, loving ,maiden symbol.

  5. Lisa Green says:

    I think this poem is the best I ever read. Emily is telling us that she had to freedom. She was trapped. She couldn’t do her own thing. All she wanted to do is write poetry, but she wan’t good enough because she wan’t a man. I think this poem is the best she ever wrote. It really expresses how she feels.

  6. Cindy says:

    A great poem!

  7. Brieanna says:

    Reading this poem, I really felt like I was feeling Emily’s despair as she writes. My Life Had Stood– A Loaded Gun, just reading this sends so many ideas to my mind. Always thinking, oh what will this poem bring? What does this poet feel? After thinking about all the possibilities of what she was trying to express, I read it. I honestly savered every word; it sank in and I felt her emostions arise. I give Emily Dickinson my applaus!

  8. Dick says:

    Emily’s poem “My life had stood–a Loaded Gun–” is a beautiful love poem. She has finally met her “owner” and her “master.” She wrote letters to her “master.” She saw women in subservient roles in her society. She lived in a male based society. She is glowing, she is loving this experience. She had become his protector, she has become his soul mate, if only for a while. The poem personifies a gun. She is that gun. She has been allowed to “shoot” with her words, and her words are those that will never die. The poem may be an enigma, just like Emily, but that is the beauty of it. Shakespeare had the same kind of obscurity. She had the genius of a Shakespeare, a soul addmitted to itself. She was a loaded gun that went off with her words and gave us beautiful insights into the soul and life. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…” and I would have to agree that many of her poems are just that–things of beauty. “Loaded Gun” is just one of her many “things of beauty.”

  9. Nicole says:

    When doing this poem in my Contemperary Voices class my teacher explained to us that Emily Dickinson was talking about language, and how she used it as a weapon. How she could use it to hurt somebody, and that when she is stressed or angry and she uses her langugage to express what shes feeling, that she feels satisfaction or happiness because she was able to express what she was feeling. Personally I am very confused about this poem and I have to do an essay on it and I don’t even know what to write, I read what most of you said and I do have to agree with you, what you are saying makes sense, this is why I am confused.

  10. meg says:

    I don’t think that Emily Dickinson was a romantic poet at all in the sense that romantic poets talk about love. The poem involves a large amount of anger and is about the mistreatment of women throughout society. They are like loaded guns with the potential to do so much, but they can only accomplish things if they are owned by a man. I don’t think the poem should be taken as endearing or romantic. Also, if you plan to live your life by the poem then you plan to be walked all over.

  11. Han says:

    Hi,

    It is with great enthusiasm that a discussion of this poem by my favorite and most influential poet, Emily Dickinson, exists. I know not of another poem quite as romantic, so full of yearning for completeness, as this. Ever since I came upon it, I have lived my life in accordance to it. And so, I must shed light on what this poem truly means to me, and how I believe it was intended to mean.

    “My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–” is the most passionate poem I know of. Simple because there is so much desire, so much yearning and longing for love, so much dream for that one person to complete you. Throughout the piece, think about how we ourselves desire, unconditionally, completeness and unity in that one true love–where everything finally makes sense, the One.

    My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
    In Corners–till a Day
    the Owner passed–identified–
    and carried Me away–

    relates her, the narrator’s life, to that of an inanimate object–something not living, yet full of power, full of potential, hence, the word “loaded.” Yet her life is stationary, sitting in a corner, waiting for that day, the day the “Owner” comes to claim her as his love. (Think of it this way: when you truly love someone, do you not claim him or her as “yours?” or that he or she belongs to you?) Continuing, and so he comes to claim her and carry her away***think marriage, how the groom carries the bride.***

    And now We roam in Sovereign Woods —
    And now We hunt the Doe —
    And every time I speak for Him —
    The Mountains straight reply —

    Now, they are One. The hunter and his gun, or the husband and his wife (stanza 5 focuses on the narrator as the protector so here she hints on the fact that she, like the gun, is protecting her man.) And so they both go off into the world. “And every time I speak for Him–/The Mountains straight reply–” implies that whenever she speaks on his behalf which is the gun firing, the echo effect of the sound roaring through the woods is the reply. Also, by speaking on his behalf, she as the bride/wife, is protecting and upholding his reputation by acting as his representative.

    And do I smile, such cordial light
    Upon the Valley glow —
    It is as a Vesuvian face
    Had let its pleasure through —

    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 —

    Here Dickinson relates her exuberant smile to the spark from the gun being fired. Her smile and happiness is enough to make the whole valley glow. And when night approaches and they have spent a wonderful day together, she still guards her master or husband with more attention than ever.

    To foe of His — I’m deadly foe —
    None stir the second time —
    On whom I lay a Yellow Eye —
    Or an emphatic Thumb —

    Now it gets forceful. Stanza 5 states that whoever dares challenge her man must first deal with her. After all, she is his protector and he her master. She demands attention by enforcing a vicious stare and a no nonsense thumb. The “yellow eye” and “emphatic thumb” suggests the hunter’s aiming and the trigger finger, in relation to the gun.

    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 most moving part is saved for the end. The narrator ends by saying that though they both can live long, he must live longer than her because she can’t bear to live a day without him. You’ve heard of the saying “if you live to be 100, I want to live to 100 minus 1 day”? This is the same idea. The metaphor of the gun here comes around finally to state that it, like her, has the capacity to kill, not to die (The gun can’t die because it’s an inanimate object, and she can’t speed up a natural death). At the time Dickinson lived, women were known to have longer life expectancy than men.

    Well, I hope that helped you and others who seem to be puzzled by the poem. We all live with, essentially, one underlying purpose, consciously or subconsciously, to find that one true love that completes us. A love that we proudly claim as our own, and that who saved us, our owner. For me and countless others, our lives are like loaded guns, incapable of sharing ourselves for the owner has yet to arrive to claim us. We live on, incomplete, yet continually yearn for that love that Dickinson could not even find herself. She died without ever finding the love, she so vividly portray in all her writings. It is a tragedy that she must suffer for us to appreciate the mastery and vision of her genius.

    Emily Dickinson is among the most romantic poets ever, though her works are very subtle and tough. I hope you all enjoyed my thoughts on the poem. Don’t be hesitant to comment. Thanks and good luck!

    Han.
    25/M.
    Sunday 8:50PM July 31, 2005
    New York

  12. Rachel says:

    This poem suggests to me a relationship, that is perhaps neglected. The poem seems to be the journey of her usefulness to the ‘owner’. Her anticipation and desire to take part in life but this is tinged with doubt and anxiety: “Though I than he – may longer live He must longer – than I – ” this suggests the desire to have support and the strength that she does derive from him. Perhaps gien this it is a metaphor for the relationship that she had with her father and, “the sovereign wood” the powerful places he inhabited. Perhaps her use to her father as a means to crack and alleviate animosity?

  13. Abe says:

    I think this poem manifests much of her inner frustration and tensions, so clearly represented in, ‘it is as a vesuvian face/had let its pleasure through’
    emily had a deep love for a certain individual(s) “my master” and “owner,” who are mentioned throughout her poetry, perhaps more than one person?

    either way, she desperately wishes to be by his side despite any hardships, even fiercely defending him from any harm (overprotectiveness?)
    this is a very romantic poem

    she fantasizes over their journeys, and her deepest wish of her life; ‘and carried me away’ refers to what she desires most, to escape

    that is the metaphor of the loaded gun, and the corners of dark, where she waits vigilantly ’till a day’ when her love interest and her are together, for that moment! (that do we not also wait for?)

    sadly, from her biography, it seems her apparent introvertness and reclusions seems to have impaired her hopes and dreams, confined to bitter reality

  14. Ben Lee says:

    After a few readings of this poem it is clear that the speaker of this poem is suppressing a lot of anger; hence, she is the loaded gun. Being a loaded gun requires someone else to “release” the anger, and this outlet is provided by the “Owner.” A clear progression of her relationship, from her inactivity until she is picked up by the Owner, is supportive of a concept of interdependence between Master and servant- explained through her speaking for him, her discharging and pleasure in doing so, her guarding of him at night, her limited role and displeasure as a result- all contribute to the power of this poem.

  15. Lisa says:

    I first came across this poem in my Intro. to Literature class. Our class discussed it quite in depth, and I must say that at first I had quite a bit of trouble understanding it. Yet as the class discussion evolved the revelation and understanding of the poem hit me suddenly! The poem is about the life of a gun, and it is the gun that is speaking. No one in my class believed me and they continued to disect it. People may try to attatch fancy metaphors to the poem, but it is still a simple and straight-forward poem about the life of a gun.

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