a bone chilling tale

In ‘A narrow Fellow’ looms a potentially deadly hazard, that tightens the breath of the narrator. Not to mention the ‘zero at the bone’. The image of death as it rose from the dotted lines on ‘Let down the bars’, must have that same effect to be in line with my interpretation. If not, at least one of us has it all wrong. But don’t worry, for the moment there is no need to reconsider findings that are out of this line. This because my interpretation is only reliable if and when another explorer arrives independently at the same point of view. With the emphasis on independently. In case you have followed the marked discovery route, the resulting consensus is in terms of science therefore not as convincing as it should be.

Meanwhile, there is no harm in putting your account of the story, whether it tightens the breath or not, to the test. To which purpose we have an excellent touchstone in the culmination of metaphors at the entrance to the discovery route :

if                                        Death    =   the unilateral lover
and                                    Death    =   the ‘Oh’ in ‘love’
then                                  Death    =   worse than Death

This sample of logic is the keystone of my interpretation. Refute it, and my interpretation is refuted. Yet, the only way to refute logic, is by better logic. If your gut feeling tells you to refute, then go with it – intuition is even in science a better guide than reason – but its reliability has at every point to be comfirmed by hard evidence. Which in this case comes down on proving either that Death goes in this poem for mutual consent, or that Dickinson’s choice for ‘Oh’ instead of ‘O’ is not intended to turn Death into ‘Oh’s standard metaphor. You are welcome to place your well founded refutal on this page.

The first option seems unlikely, but proving the text consistent with a suicidal mood will be sufficient to do the trick. The second option needs to prove Dickinson clumsy in a punctuation that fits seemlessly in with a deliberate choice for ‘Oh’ instead of ‘O’. And that in more than one way. If this approach does not lead to a result that agrees with your intuition, there is always the possibility to declare both presumptions (the ‘if’ & ‘and’) correct, but the conclusion wrong. In which case you have to explain what makes the ‘Oh’ in unilateral love at least as good as the ‘Oh’ of mutual consent. Only if logic is to fail you on all three counts, there will be nothing for it but to accept the touchstone as reliable. Whether your intuition likes it or not. 

When reliable, this touchstone leads to a simple, single, and unquestionably correct interpretation of ‘Let down the bars’. If it doesn’t, your interpretation may deviate in some major respect from mine, as presented in the discovery route, without failing the test. In which case the proper procedure is to report the failure to have occurred as a comment on this page, and on which line(s). But, please, don’t spoil the experiment, or Dickinson’s poetry, and only use the contact page to report the exact nature of the failure. This will allow me to respond in general terms, and the deviation to prove itself by being repeated independently.

As long as this touchstone remains unchalleged, Literature Studies is in serious trouble. A simple, single, and unquestionably correct interpretation of even one isolated piece of poetry, is, after all, enough to prove all its methods and traditions of literary criticism good for the paperbin. And why being satisfied with just one isolated sample of poetry, if this touchstone can be applied on any poem with the word ‘death’ in it?

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