They shut me up in Prose–
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet–
Because they liked me “still”—
Though in her life she isolated herself from the world, Emily Dickinson has allowed every one of her readers the opportunity to view her most intimate thoughts. Her poems offer insight to her feelings of disassociation from other people, which seem to be a cry for understanding. Her syntax and grammar suggest that she was, indeed, different from everyone else. In “They shut me up in Prose–,” Dickinson expresses her longing to be understood.
In the first stanza of the poem, Dicksinson compares her treatment from others to her days “as when a little Girl.” This suggests that like a child, who should be “seen and not heard,” Dickinson’s beliefs and ideas are scoffed at. She is not given any credit or consideration, as her company would prefer her to just be “still” and not say a word. However, Dickinson’s manner, unconventional in her time, did not allow her to submit to the repression of her beliefs.
“Still! Could themself have peeped” they may have noticed that she actually has something worth listening to. Here, in the second stanza, she rationalizes her argument, saying that if they would just to listen her perhaps they would understand. She says, “They might as wise have lodged a bird for treason,” as though it were possible for her not to think. She is saying that just as it would be ridiculous to lock up a bird for treason, so it is to ask her not to think and expect her to not express her feelings.
“Himself has but to will/And easy as a Sta/Abolish his Captivity.” This is Dicksinson’s resolution. She reveals that keeping one’s mind on greater things is a way to resolve this conflict. As she has done with the world, here she recommends to others that if one can not understand or appreciate her, then she can simply remove herself from the situation “and laugh.”
In retrospect, it is easy for a reader to understand and appreciate the brilliant work of Emily Dickinson. Her observations of human habit seem common sense to today’s reader. These observations are what likely led her to seclusion from the world. What seemed ridiculous and unconventional during her time now serves as a reminder of the inequities which plague our history. This could have been learned sooner, if only they had listened.