Emily Dickinson's ecocentric pastoralism

Moon-ju Shin, Marquette University


Critics and scholars have written much about Emily Dickinson's reclusiveness and isolation from the world. This dissertation examines a neglected area of Dickinson scholarship: Dickinson's love of nature demonstrated in her poetry from an ecocritical perspective. The key concept of "interrelatedness" in ecocriticism sheds new light on the poet's inclusive love for deity, nature, and human beings in her poetry and letters. This study envisions Dickinson as an ecocentric pastoral poet. She sometimes participates in the anthropocentricism prevalent in the classical pastoralism of Virgil as well as such variations of Virgilian pastoralism as Jonathan Edwards' Puritan, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendental, pastoralism. However, and more importantly, she departs from them in her movement toward an ecologically-conscious pastoralism. Dickinson shares Henry David Thoreau's acknowledgement of the physicality of nature and his humility before nature but distinguishes herself from him in her acceptance of the human body as well as the Trinitarianism of her Puritan heritage. Grounded in her gardens, she proposes her own trinity of God, nature, and human beings. Emphasizing a harmonious relationship among her trinity, Dickinson's prescient ecocentric pastoralim evolves into a spirituality of nature and prefigures the insights of the ecofeminism and ecotheology of our time. She anticipates modern ecofeminists' search for a new spirituality and modern ecotheologians' quest for an ecologically-sensitive image of God. Her nondualistic "both/and" philosophy presents both anthropocentric and ecocentric attitudes toward nature but invites readers to choose the latter. Based on her three "business[es]" of circumference, love, and song, Dickinson engages the transformation of the world from ego-consciousness to eco-consciousness through the medium of her poetry.

Recommended Citation

Shin, Moon-ju, "Emily Dickinson's ecocentric pastoralism" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263817.