“They shut me up in Prose” (Prompt 2)

In “They shut me up in Prose” we have a self that is reflected through a “they”. The poem itself begins with the words “They shut me up in Prose” which portrays an I in the me and presents us with a “they.” As I read the poem I did not feel as though the they represented any specific group of people. Thinking back to our class discussions on how Whitman presents many voices within one in his poem, I felt that Dickinson could have tried to make the “they” be these voices in her head or just a general voice that does not exist. When she says “Still! Could themself have peeped -/ And seen my Brain” (5-6) I could not help but think, maybe the “they” she referred to is a part of herself. And that part of herself is what is what is shutting herself up. The definition of the word “Prose” is written or spoken language. And Steven, yesterday, said something interesting about how reading it in iambs would suggest that the words “They” and “Prose” are emphasized and they are capitalized as well. Obviously these two words play an important role throughout the entire poem and that led me to look at the specific definition of “they” which is to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified. Maybe I am looking too deep into this but a poem contains the author’s name before it is presented and maybe that is what Dickinson had very slightly alluded too. That her name could be the “they” and the self she tries to present is many of her voices. Of course all this thought is probably motivated from the fact that we just came off Whitman, but still food for thought? Also, in my comments from the previous post I mentioned that the bird is usually considered a free figure in nature. They are not bounded to the ground as we are and I was reminded of the usage of Bird in her context as a bird that I would normally see walking the streets of the city. “They might as wise have lodged a Bird” (7) she said, but when is a bird ever confined? It is hardly unless it is captured. But birds can often be separated from their flocks and find themselves lonely. In the same sense her true lone voice can be found separated and alone from the other entirety of her voices.


So my questions are simple:

What do you guys feel about Whitman’s many voices within one compared to Dickinson’s “they,” can they be compared in the way I attempted?

Also do you guys think the bird signifies confinement or solitude or neither?

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2 Responses to “They shut me up in Prose” (Prompt 2)

  1. I really like the idea that the “they” is actually an extension of the persona, and that the persona is choosing to isolate his/herself. I think it makes a lot of sense, especially in light of what we discussed in class about the self in “they shut me up in a box” and the self in “No more then I”, being two different entities. Compared to Whitman, Dickinson is othering the extension of herself, while Whitman seems to confront and invite the extension of himself, referring to is as “you”. In terms of the Bird, I think its unclear how confined the bird actually is, I am not convinced that it does not escape, and does not become the representation of freedom “looking upon and captivity and laugh”.

  2. Marc says:

    I feel like in this case, unlike with Whitman’s poem, the “they” refers to a specific group of people; the narrators teachers who have restricted her creativity throughout her life. Although with this interpretation, Its impossible to derive different voices from the “they” like Whitman’s “I’, we can identify with ourselves the “they” as any people who have restricted out creativity and talent throughout our lives. The “they” in this poem can be identified to anyone’s life as the obstacles that are impeding one from reaching his or her full potential. As for the bird, I think it is just part of an analogy the narrator is attempting to make, showing that her teachers could never have have seen her full potential. The narrator likens the chances of her teachers realizing her talent to the chances that the the police jail “a bird for treason in the pound”; no chance.

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