What mystery pervades a well! PRESO

POEM 161:
What mystery pervades a well!
What mystery pervades a well!
The water lives so far –
A neighbour from another world
Residing in a jar
Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass,
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face
The grass does not appear afraid.
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
Related somehow they may be;
The sedge stands next the sea
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house
Nor simplified her ghost.
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her less
The nearer her they get
This poem acts as a meditation on the persona’s
alienation from nature and not belonging to its world,
although she closely and appreciatively describes it. the
poem follows a progression of mysteries, the well to the
sea and then to nature, exploring how the closer one
gets to nature and understanding it, the more questions
are raised and instead of taking one step forward, two
steps have been taken back.
This poem is structured in four stanza’s each
having four lines. There is not a particular
rhyming scheme or rhythm, instead, Dickinson
uses slant rhyme.
What mystery pervades a well!
The water lives so far –
A neighbour from another world
Residing in a jar
» ‘But Nature is a stranger yet’ - personifies nature, shows how important it
is to her. But that its a stranger so she desires to belong to it but is unable
» ‘The grass does not appear afraid.’ - Making nature seem brave and to
show it belongs next the well
» ‘The water lives so far – A neighbour from another world residing in a jar’ –
water has connotations such that imply cleansing both physical and
spiritual as well as nature and life. In this sentence Dickinson compares the
work of man ‘the jar’ and the majesty, depth and complexity of nature.
This shows her undertsanding and connection with nature.
» ‘Like looking every time you please in an abyss’s face’ – this explores the
idea through personification again the idea of nature’s power and how
human creations cannot compare.
» Personifying nature is this way shows the persona deep connection to
nature and their emotions of ‘awe’ at the expanse and power of the sea
‘where he is floorless’.
» Paradox: "That those who know her know
her less the nearer her they get“ - Once you
get slightly closer to belonging to nature,
you belong less. One step forward two steps
» Alliteration: "The sedge stands next the
“But nature is a stranger yet”
“never passed her haunted house”
“those who know her know her less”
“residing in a jar” and “neighbour from another world”
In the poem 161 the idea of wanting to belong to
nature is evident, as in many of her poems. Although
paradoxically the persona is in awe of nature and
simultaneously is afraid and somewhat timid to the idea
of belonging.
In the poem, Dickinson has emphasized that the
closer one gets to nature and belonging to it they learn
how truly alien ‘she’ is by focusing closely on her; nature,
and realizing paradoxically ‘that those who know her,
know her less, the nearer to her they get.’
The main connection between this poem and the
other poems written by Dickinson is the common theme
of nature. As demonstrated in poems ‘82’ and ‘66’ the
connection is evident between nature and herself.
Within these three poems she repeatedly makes a
reference to nature such as ‘world’, ‘nature’ and
‘countrymen’ in poem 66, ‘mountain bush’, ‘birds’ and
‘nature’s dining room’ in 82 and finally in 161 she
mentions ‘world’, ‘abyss’ and ‘sea’.
In these three poems she shows feelings of
alienation, out of place and dislocation through her
interrupted rhyming structure and lack of flow.
As a group we at first struggled to understand the
poem and how it related to the concept of belonging.
Through the readings and research of this poem we
eventually came to the conclusion that the persona
within the poem longs to belong with nature but
struggles to fully understand its complexities and depth
and majesty of its power. This is achieved through
Dickinson’s use of comparison between nature and man
made objects such as the ‘well’, ‘glass’ and the ‘jar’.

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