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I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that — by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ is about the tension in a woman’s mind. She is torn between two states womanhood and being a wife. The speaker of this piece describes how hard she tries to detach herself from the mental serfdom of being a wife. However, in the end, she finds herself trapped inside the same state. This poem appears in Dickinson’s first poetry collection Poems (1890) published by T. W. Higginson and M. L. Todd under a different title, “Apocalypse”. This version of the text differs in the usage of punctuations and meaning.

  • Read the full text of ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ here along with the analysis section.
Analysis of I'm "wife" — I've finished that — by Emily Dickinson


Summary

‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’, also known by the short title “Apocalypse”, begins with a statement that sounds both shocking and sad. The speaker says that she has ceased to be known by the title of someone’s wife. She is a “woman” now and feels like a Czar of her own mind.

According to her, girls’ lives are eclipsed by the patriarchal domination of society. She thinks the world may feel pity for their condition but in reality, it is not the case.

The state of being under someone’s supervision and control is far different from being a completely independent woman in such a social structure. It feels painful to the speaker. She lives in a transient state of freedom with only the title “woman”.

However, at last, she cannot hold that title any longer. Hence, she returns to be a “wife” again. This never-ending loop was the reality of women’s lives during the 19th century.

Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter

Form

Dickinson’s ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ consists of four quatrains or stanzas having four lines each. It is written using the first-person pronoun, “I”. The usage of a subjective point of view alongside its short musical lines makes it an example of a lyric poem. It is important to note here that the poetic persona does not resemble the poet.

Rhyme Scheme

The text does not have a regular rhyme scheme. Dickinson mainly uses slant rhymes. For example, in the first stanza, “that” imperfectly rhymes with “state”. In the second stanza, the usage of slant rhyme can be found in the words “looks” and “Eclipse”. While, in the last stanza, Dickinson uses perfectly rhyming words “compare” and “there”. The terms “then” and “pain” also rhyme closely.

Meter

Dickinson uses a regular meter in ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’. In the first stanza, the syllable count per line is 6-4-6-4. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. So, the first stanza is composed of iambic trimeter and iambic dimeter alternatively.

In the second stanza, each line contains 6 syllables. All the lines are in iambic trimeter. The first two lines of the third stanza are in iambic trimeter and the last two are in iambic dimeter.

As the majority of the lines are composed in iambic trimeter, we can say that the overall poem is composed in that meter. The usage of such a regular metrical pattern gives readers a great musical journey through the text.

Let’s have a look at the scansion of this piece in order to understand what is exemplified above.

I’m “wife“/ — I’ve fi/-nished that

That o/-ther state

I’m Czar/ — I’m “Wo/-man” now

It’s sa/-fer so

How odd/ the Girl’s/ life looks

Be-hind/ this soft/ Ec-lipse

I think/ that Earth/ feels so

To folks/ in Hea/-ven — now

This be/-ing com/-fort — then

That o/-ther kind/ — was pain

But why/ com-pare?

I’m “Wife“!/ Stop there!

The syllables in bold are stressed and the rest are unstressed.


Poetic Devices

Dickinson uses the following poetic devices in this poem.

  • Metaphor: In this poem, the terms such as “wife”, “Woman”, and “Eclipse” are used as metaphors. For instance, the term “wife” refers to the state of being in the domination of a man. “Eclipse” stands for the shadowing of women in the veil of patriarchy.
  • Repetition: In the first stanza, there is a repetition of the term “I’m”. The term “that” is used at the end of the first line and the second line begins with the same word. It is also a use of anadiplosis.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “safer so”, “life looks”, “then/ that”, etc. The repetition of a similar sound in neighboring words creates an internal rhyming.
  • Enjambment: This device is used throughout the poem. Dickinson uses dashes in order to connect the overall poem in a single thread.
  • Irony: It occurs in “It’s safer so —”. Here the poet tersely comments on being a woman in a patriarchal society.
  • Personification: In the third line of the second stanza “I think that Earth feels so”, the poet personifies the term “Earth”. It is a reference to the people living in it. So, the term is also a metonym for humankind.
  • Antithesis: It occurs in the first two lines of the last stanza: “This being comfort — then/ That other kind — was pain —”
  • Interrogation: It occurs in “But why compare?”
  • Rhetorical Exclamation: The last line “I’m “Wife”! Stop there!” contains this device.


Themes

Dickinson explores a number of important themes in ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’. These include womanhood, patriarchy, subjugation of women, and marriage. In this poem, Dickinson’s main idea revolves around the difference between being a wife and a single woman. This poem is not about the poet’s life. Rather it is about all the women who mentally suffer due to patriarchal norms. The speaker compares marriage to an institution that subjugates women. It makes them feel like subjects of their husbands. Hence, the speaker wants to mentally free herself from this serfdom and be a supreme controller of her own mind. However, it is hard to do so in a conventional society. Though she enjoys an extremely short phase as a woman, for the rest of her life, she is obliged to live as someone’s wife.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Critical Appreciation

Lines 1-4

I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —

That other state —

I’m Czar — I’m “Woman” now —

It’s safer so —

The poem ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ begins with a proclamation to the conventional society. Dickinson’s speaker represents all those who are courageous enough to disobey the ancient norms. These norms subjugate women as mere subjects of their masters, husbands. They are obliged to obey the conventions.

The speaker does not want to live as someone’s property. So, she says that she has finished being a “wife”. This “other state” is part of a woman’s life. While they are born, they have to play the part of daughters. Then they are under their fathers’ control.

When they reach maturity, they are married to men who then turned out to be their new masters. From that moment, they start to enter into the state of being a wife. Later, they act the role of a mother.

So, there are a number of stages in a woman’s life. There is one thing common in each stage that is to please men and be respectful to the patriarchal norms. Each is filled with the essence of “otherness”. It deters them to grow as they want to be.

In the last two lines, the speaker declares herself the “Czar” of her own mind. As she stopped being a wife, now she can live only with the title “woman”. She thinks it is safer than being someone’s better half. As a single woman, she can think on her own and be the ruler of her mind.

Lines 5-8

How odd the Girl’s life looks

Behind this soft Eclipse —

I think that Earth feels so

To folks in Heaven — now —

In the second stanza, Dickinson points out the intricacies of a woman’s life. In a patriarchal society, a girl is an odd, unequal piece. She cannot match up with the boys. Hence, they are ordered to live behind the protection of men. This idea of deterring a girl to lead a life like a man is presented with a concrete image of the eclipse.

According to the speaker, girls’ lives are eclipsed by men’s domination. No matter how talented they are, they are denied opportunities and any kind of advancements. Society thinks if they are freed to decide their lives on their own, they cannot be a suitable match for men. This typical idea was the foundation of previous centuries.

An eclipse does not happen regularly. It is an odd natural event. People generally don’t think about this event often. Likewise, they don’t think about women’s suffering. That’s why, Dickinson writes, “I think that Earth feels so”. According to her, some men may take pity on their state on women’s fate as people do to the “folks in Heaven” during an eclipse.

Lines 9-12

This being comfort — then

That other kind — was pain —

But why compare?

I’m “Wife”! Stop there!

The third stanza begins with a contrast. In the first two lines, the poet says that the state of womanhood somehow feels more comfortable than being a wife. The “other kind” is painful for a woman who wants to lead a life on her own.

This satisfying phase of the speaker’s life does not last long. The little freedom she has as a single woman quickly fades away. She cannot bear the taunts of society any longer. Hence, she chooses a different partner and remarries.

The last line can be interpreted differently. Readers can take the whole poem just as a chain of thoughts. The speaker is still the same. She was just thinking about how she would feel as a single woman. In reality, nothing changed.

So, she says, “I’m “Wife”! Stop there!”. This time the poet capitalizes the first letter of “Wife” for the sake of emphasis. Besides, it seems that the speaker is rebuking her mind to think in that way firsthand.

I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that — as a Feminist Poem

A complete overview of the poem’s meaning, the structure of lines, usage of feminine endings, and diction will help readers to appreciate ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ as a feminist poem. In this piece, Dickinson explores how the institution of marriage chains a woman. Not only that, but she also hints at how a girl’s destiny is shaped by patriarchal conventions. In this social structure, a woman cannot live on her own. She has to follow men’s guidance in order to get accepted. No matter how hard a woman tries, she cannot come out of this chain of subjugation just like the speaker of the poem. So this poem echoes the proto-feminist concepts and shows the state of women during the poet’s time.

Apart from that, readers can find some unique features in this poem. The usage of unorthodox punctuations and syntax, usage of short lines with unconventional endings keep occurring in Dickinson’s poetry. This style can be aptly termed as “L’ecriture feminine”, first coined by Hélène Cixous in the 20th century. Structurally, the poem does not conform to the rules developed by men. For this reason, Dickinson’s ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ is an ideal example of a feminist poem.

Historical Context

Emily Dickinson was a prolific poet. She penned close to 1800 poems. However, only ten of her poems were published during her lifetime. Her first volume of poetry Poems was first published four years after her death, in 1890. This book contains several of her unpublished works which were slightly edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The poem ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ appears in this collection by the title “Apocalypse”. It is the 16th poem of Book II of Poems, known as “Love”. The editors excluded the dashes and quotation marks used by Dickinson for the sake of contemporary conventions.

You can read the edited version of ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’, “Apocalypse” below. If you read the text, you can understand that the exclusions affect the overall idea presented by Dickinson.

Edited Version of I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —

Text of Apocalypse by Emily Dickinson
From Poems (1890) by Emily Dickinson


Questions & Answers

What is ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ about?

Emily Dickinson’s ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’ is a poem about how a woman’s mind is torn between two states, being a wife and a woman. She prefers staying single rather than being in lifelong subjugation. However, she cannot fulfill her desire as she lives in a patriarchal structure.

What is the approach of the poet in the poem ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’?

In this poem, Dickinson takes an innovative approach. She makes use of the stream-of-consciousness technique in order to bring home her point. By using this style, the poet shows how a woman liberates herself in her thoughts and dejectedly returns to reality.

What type of poem is ‘I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —’?

The poem is a lyric poem written from the first-person point of view. It consists of three quatrains. Though the rhyme scheme is irregular, this poem contains a regular meter. It is composed of iambic trimeter.

What is the tone of the poem?

In the first two stanzas of the poem, the tone is ironic, thoughtful, and comforting. The shift in tone occurs in the last stanza. Here, the poet uses an angry tone.

Who is the speaker of this poem?

The speaker of the poem is Dickinson’s poetic persona. She does not represent Dickinson, rather represents all the married women as a whole.


Similar Feminist Poems

  • “Bequest” by Eunice de Souza — This poem is about how a girl’s mind is shaped by conventional society from an early age.
  • “The Survivor” by Marilyn Chin — In this poem, Chin describes the restrictions a girl faces in her family as well as in society.
  • “Advice to Women” by Eunice de Souza — This piece is written in the form of relationship advice to women. The main idea revolves around staying single rather than being in a relationship.


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