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At a time when religious fervor seemingly provided all answers for human life, Emily Dickinson entertains "nimble belief": the idea that never settling for one answer makes life more compelling. Our central question is the following: How does Dickinson's religious and societal nimble belief manifest in specific hand-bound manuscript booklets (fascicles) of her poetry? This research is important because its answer gives insight into societal norms during the Second Great Awakening by both establishing boundaries of acceptability and illuminating what an affected individual thinks of such boundaries. Dickinson's position as a woman brings significance to her work because women of the time were often the targets of constrictive societal norms. While exploring Dickinson's philosophical embrace of complication, this project will utilize several secondary sources to provide necessary context when examining Dickinson's work. These include James McIntosh's Nimble Believing, which explores Dickinson's personal philosophy in all aspects of her life. Additionally, because nature is so closely affiliated with belief, Christine Gerhardt's A Place for Humility: Whitman, Dickinson, and the Natural World is a helpful resource in decoding metaphors. Within Dickinson's work itself, this presentation will look at several poems throughout Fascicle Nine, including: "Make me a picture of the sun —,” “What is — Paradise—,” “You love me — you are sure —,” “I shall know why — when Time is over —,” “The Skies can’t keep their secret!,” “Musicians wrestle everywhere —,” “Dying, Dying in the night,” and “Some — keep the Sabbath — going to church —.” These poems contain specific moments in which Dickinson's nimble belief is on full display against religious and societal conventions. The reader can see how Dickinson struggles with what is expected versus what she feels to be personally true.


Utah State University



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English Language and Literature

There All Along: Emily Dickinson's Nimble Belief in the Face of Religious and Societal Convention