I Like a Look of Agony
In the poem “I like a look of Agony,” by Emily Dickinson, one of the ways the poem’s affects on the reader is improved is though the use of literary devices. People normally have trepidation of agony, but Dickinson uses literary devices such as imagery, personification, and connotation to reveal her contrasting enjoyment to the social norm. The opening line “I like a look of Agony,” (line 1) could be interpreted as sadistic and cold. Completely reading the poem allows the reader to understand what the first line actually means. Dickinson does not like a look of agony because she enjoys watching others suffer; she is fascinated by the expression of agony. The second line of the poem “Because I know it’s true-,” (line 2) offers some insight into why she has this fascination. Many human emotions can be falsely projected or controlled. People tend to feel comfortable when they are in control of their emotions. People who are in agony cannot only experience pain but can also be removed from their comfort zone. This potential for lose of control can therefore evoke fear in people. No one can fake the physical reactions accompanying agony. The line “impossible to feign,” (line 6) is Dickinson’s way of expressing the hopelessness in trying to disguise the reactions. People are used to being in control and interacting with people who also have this control. It can be uncomfortable for people to watch others in agony because it reminds them of how, if they were in the same situation, it would be impossible to disguise the pain. This loose of control is the focus of her fascination, and her motivation for writing this poem.
Dickinson uses imagery to describe the reactions from the pain. Imagery of physical reactions to agony can convey feeling associated with it to the reader, but Dickinson contrasts this with her own views. The physical reactions of a convulsion, a throe, and eyes glazing over are effective as reminders because they all have a connotation of pain and death. Pain is something that tends to evoke an instinctual fear in people, so as Dickinson describes the painful reactions people have, the reader is reminded of this fear. Because it makes reference to death, the strongest of these descriptions is the one referring to the eyes. “The Eyes glaze once- and that is Death-,” (line 5) creates a vision of a slow process of death. Not only is pain associated with this but also the process will eventually leads to fatality. Death is also a metaphor, the death of the control. Once the eyes begin to glaze over, physical death could be pending and death of emotional control could also be setting in. Dickinson is interested in this death of control, so the reader is reminded of Dickinson’s contrasting views on agony. Dickinson enjoys the fact that people cannot fake the reactions to anguish; therefore their reaction must be true. Because of her isolated lifestyle and the wonderment she had for things both natural and spiritual, she appreciated something that was a known truth. It’s intriguing to read such an unconventional view on watching others suffer.
Another literary device utilized by Dickinson is personification. In the last two lines, “The Beads upon the Forehead/ By homely Anguish strung.” (line 7-8) anguish is personified as being able to string. When an author uses personification, human qualities are assigned to something non-human. Personification helps the readers understand anguish because they can easily visualize the act of stringing something. Dickinson utilizes this to create a vision that helps reinforce the fear that people tend to have toward pain and agony. Once Dickinson can connect the reader through personification, the reader gains greater insight and therefore a better understand of Dickinson’s fascination of the expression of agony.
Both imagery and personification are made more effective as literary devices because of the connotation of the words Dickinson choose to use when employing them. The descriptions “Men do not shame Convulsion, / Nor simulate, a Throe-,” (line 3-4) contain words that have a connotation of uncontrollable pain and anguish. The connotation of these words helps Dickinson remind the reader how distressing agony can be. What distress most people, however, fascinates Dickinson. She enjoyed the fact that the reactions could not be a sham or simulated, they were real. In line eight, the word homely is used to personify agony. The connotation of this word is simple, plain, and unattractive. Homely and its synonyms also describe Dickinson’s lifestyle. It adds a feeling of genuineness to the poem. Dickinson had an appreciation for simplicity. “Homely” connects Dickinson and her genuineness, and the connection is why she enjoys the look of agony and the reason she was compelled to write this