An alternative interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s – I dwell in Possibility

I dwell in Possibility

BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

The usual interpretation is that the poet is dwelling in Possibility. Notice the capital P. Emphasizing on words by writing them in capitals in the middle of the poem or prose was a 1800’s technique scarcely used in Dickinson’s times. The poet dwells in the possible and imagines a house, a just house or a superior house with a lot of windows which stand for multiple perspectives both inside and outside and the house has superior doors which can stand for the reluctance on the part of the poet to let people in.

The chambers refer to the rooms of this fairer house specifically to the bedrooms. The rooms are huge and tall since they are like the coniferous tree Cedar. And though they are so huge and tall they are still of restricted view. The roof of the house lasts forever unlike most realistic roofs since it has infinity of the sky to design it.

The poet chooses only the fairest of the visitors – the superior, the most intelligent, the loveliest for occupation into her house of possibilities. Or for occupation this could refer to the occupation of a writer who has created this poem by dwelling in possibility, special emphasis being on the the word “this”. This could either refer to the house which is a product of her imagination or to the poem and the art of creating the poem itself. Or perhaps to the action later in the next two lines of trying to gather paradise with her arms.

A note before the alternative –

Since one cannot get in to the head of the writer, the best we can do try and understand why they wrote the way that they choose. But in that effort of understanding lies the presumption that the writer himself was very clear about his creations. Writers are a queer breed. They are very sensitive to syntax, words, sounds of words and how the words look. Perhaps sometimes they think about what they write, perhaps sometimes.

The alternative way, my interpretation –

She dwells in possibility. She dwells, she does not ponder, she does not dream, she does not think, wish, long. Instead she dwells in Possibility. The word dwell has a slight negative connotation. Make note here – the using of two opposite connotation words together is done by Dickinson through out this poem.

The poet is dwelling over things which are possible. We know that Dickinson was a recluse. So in her dwelling there could be a slight hint at her exasperation with the world as it is, her disappointment at it, her being part of a world which forces her to dwell into the possibility of better things as a means of escape rather than a world which encourages her to dream of those possibilities.

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

In her imagination, in her dwelling over the possibilities she thinks of a fairer House than Prose. A fairer house could stand for a fairer world, a just world, a lovelier world. Than Prose – than ever has been written about before, than could possibly be described or coined together. A house, a world superior than one could imagine, write about or describe. Prose also makes for a very closed form reading. Multiple ways of interpretation of the text aside, the reader usually has to conform to the line of thought of the author which can be elaborately described. A poem on the other hand is more open, more indiscriminate in choosing its readers (reading poetry takes less time than Prose). So the fairer could stand for a more open house, a more open world.

This fairer house has many windows. It allows for multiple reflections, perspectives both on the inside and the outside. Later in the poem we find out that the house has huge high rooms and an infinite sky for its roof. So it is a fair assumption to think of the house as big, very big. This very big house, this very fair house with so many windows offers many views. From one window one could perhaps see the mountains, while from another window one could see a river flowing by a field and when the outside were to look inside, every window would offer a different view of inside the house. Point being, the openness of this house allows for multiple perspectives to co-exist much like how in a fair world every one would have a right to their own thoughts and views. A fairer world , a fairer house with many windows, with many perspective for reflection both on the inside and the outside.

Doors in a house provide security from the outside world, they provide privacy. They constrict or facilitate movement from one room to another. Now I think, this fairer house, is too superior for doors. So perhaps it has the outer casings for the doors, but I think it has no doors. This fairer house, this fairer world allows perspectives to flow in to each other openly.

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Chambers again refer to rooms, very huge tall rooms, impregnable of eye, I think means that they exist only while she is dwelling in Possibility. A human eye sees reality. A human eye is closed in that way restricted by the real life. To see her open world, to see her fairer house one needs an open mind. In the next two lines, I think she is just carried away with the hugeness, openness, infinity of her open world, she thinks of it to be unrestricted and therefore the roof is sky- high, again meaning it is open.

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

She dwells in Possibility, she imagines of visitors who are the fairest, the most open who can dwell or occupy this fairer house, her fairer world. The visitors have to be as imaginative or perhaps as open to dwell upon possibilities to think of the fairer house in order to live in her open world. I think “this” is where the reader is pulled from her imaginative world back into reality. Because she is spreading wide her narrow hands, she too is becoming more open in her thought in her imagination dwelling on possibilities which were once narrowed in the real world. She is opening her imagination wide and free to gather paradise, to think of the possible of the impossible to imagine, to be more open.

General etiquette

If you, the reader, choose to employ my alternative crazy interpretation for academic purposes, kindly let me know how it was received.

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I dwell in Possibility
BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –


The usual interpretation is that the poet is dwelling in Possibility. Notice the capital P. Emphasizing on words by writing them in capitals in the middle of the poem or prose was a 1800’s technique scarcely used in Dickinson’s times. The poet dwells in the possible and imagines a house, a just house or a superior house with a lot of windows which stand for multiple perspectives both inside and outside and the house has superior doors which can stand for the reluctance on the part of the poet to let people in.

The chambers refer to the rooms of this fairer house specifically to the bedrooms. The rooms are huge and tall since they are like the coniferous tree Cedar. And though they are so huge and tall they are still of restricted view. The roof of the house lasts forever unlike most realistic roofs since it has infinity of the sky to design it.

The poet chooses only the fairest of the visitors – the superior, the most intelligent, the loveliest for occupation into her house of possibilities. Or for occupation this could refer to the occupation of a writer who has created this poem by dwelling in possibility, special emphasis being on the the word “this”. This could either refer to the house which is a product of her imagination or to the poem and the art of creating the poem itself. Or perhaps to the action later in the next two lines of trying to gather paradise with her arms.


 A note before the alternative – 

Since one cannot get in to the head of the writer, the best we can do try and understand why they wrote the way that they choose. But in that effort of understanding lies the presumption that the writer himself was very clear about his creations. Writers are a queer breed. They are very sensitive to syntax, words, sounds of words and how the words look. Perhaps sometimes they think about what they write, perhaps sometimes.


The alternative way, my interpretation –

She dwells in possibility. She dwells, she does not ponder, she does not dream, she does not think, wish, long. Instead she dwells in Possibility. The word dwell has a slight negative connotation. Make note here – the using of two opposite connotation words together is done by Dickinson through out this poem.

The poet is dwelling over things which are possible. We know that Dickinson was a recluse. So in her dwelling there could be a slight hint at her exasperation with the world as it is, her disappointment at it, her being part of a world which forces her to dwell into the possibility of better things as a means of escape rather than a world which encourages her to dream of those possibilities.

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

In her imagination, in her dwelling over the possibilities she thinks of a fairer House than Prose. A fairer house could stand for a fairer world, a just world, a lovelier world. Than Prose – than ever has been written about before, than could possibly be described or coined together. A house, a world superior than one could imagine, write about or describe. Prose also makes for a very closed form reading. Multiple ways of interpretation of the text aside, the reader usually has to conform to the line of thought of the author which can be elaborately described. A poem on the other hand is more open, more indiscriminate in choosing its readers (reading poetry takes less time than Prose). So the fairer could stand for a more open house, a more open world.

This fairer house has many windows. It allows for multiple reflections, perspectives both on the inside and the outside. Later in the poem we find out that the house has huge high rooms and an infinite sky for its roof. So it is a fair assumption to think of the house as big, very big. This very big house, this very fair house with so many windows offers many views. From one window one could perhaps see the mountains, while from another window one could see a river flowing by a field and when the outside were to look inside, every window would offer a different view of inside the house. Point being, the openness of this house allows for multiple perspectives to co-exist much like how in a fair world every one would have a right to their own thoughts and views. A fairer world , a fairer house with many windows, with many perspective for reflection both on the inside and the outside.

Doors in a house provide security from the outside world, they provide privacy. They constrict or facilitate movement from one room to another. Now I think, this fairer house, is too superior for doors. So perhaps it has the outer casings for the doors, but I think it has no doors. This fairer house, this fairer world allows perspectives to flow in to each other openly.

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Chambers again refer to rooms, very huge tall rooms, impregnable of eye, I think means that they exist only while she is dwelling in Possibility. A human eye sees reality. A human eye is closed in that way restricted by the real life. To see her open world, to see her fairer house one needs an open mind. In the next two lines, I think she is just carried away with the hugeness, openness, infinity of her open world, she thinks of it to be unrestricted and therefore the roof is sky- high, again meaning it is open.

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

She dwells in Possibility, she imagines of visitors who are the fairest, the most open who can dwell or occupy this fairer house, her fairer world. The visitors have to be as imaginative or perhaps as open to dwell upon possibilities to think of the fairer house in order to live in her open world. I think “this” is where the reader is pulled from her imaginative world back into reality. Because she is spreading wide her narrow hands, she too is becoming more open in her thought in her imagination dwelling on possibilities which were once narrowed in the real world. She is opening her imagination wide and free to gather paradise, to think of the possible of the impossible to imagine, to be more open.


General etiquette

If you, the reader, choose to employ my alternative crazy interpretation for academic purposes or if you have anything to add to this or if you agree/disagree with some of the things I have said, please leave a comment below, I will be more than happy to get back to you. Cheers.

Author: pecsbowen

reader.philosopher.writer

2 thoughts on “An alternative interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s – I dwell in Possibility”

  1. Pingback: properti
  2. It seems to me both your given and the alternate interpretation of this poem are very similar, to the point where I would argue that you can take both meanings together at the same time, reflecting one another. Dickinson’s poetry often invites multiple takes that are very different from each other, but here it looks like some merging is possible. I say this because the alternate interpretation is more of just a yang to the yin of the original than an entirely new meaning. To give one example, the connotative dissatisfaction that comes with words like “dwell” does not, I think, imply that “a fairer house than prose” is an impossibility, or escapism, but is actually just the poet’s personal truth; Emily Dickinson (not to be too presumptuous) didn’t have to dream about the world of possibility and creativity rejected by others, she was already there; it existed in her mind (and was fed by her isolation, but let’s not go there). For me, this poem is not so much a lamentation on the world’s shortcomings and her dreams of a better one, rather it is a hymn to her own freedom and self-realization (this view, of course, is closer to the original). The nice thing about Dickinson and poetry in general is that these two exegeses are not at all mutually exclusive, and the poems become richer when, instead of putting meanings into different boxes, we take them as parts to an elusive whole. Thanks for taking the time to annotate this poem, I really enjoyed your commentary.

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