My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –

Summary

The metaphor of a loaded gun operates on two levels – it suggests a life enriched with potential and also a life on the brink of explosion.

The narrator admits that her life has been a loaded gun. It is an extremely striking image which perhaps, conveys the explosive potential of the narrator. The loaded gun has been kept in a corner of her apartment. The implication, perhaps, is that the explosive potential of the protagonist has remained confined to a small corner of her apartment. She has had no opportunity to realize her potential in all its fulness. One can also safely affirm that there is something dangerous, something fierce about the protagonist. She is not an ordinary, conventional woman of nineteenth century New England. She is different.

The second phase of the poem indicates a kind of change in the protagonist’s life style. She is chosen by her Master. She is also carried away from the narrow confines of her apartment. They live a life of freedom, a life of pioneers. They roam freely in beautiful woods. They hunt the doe. When she speaks to her Master, her voice is echoed by the mountains. When she smiles, the whole valley glows. It seems that as the pleasure of companionship bursts out of her face it looks like Vesuvius, a volcano in Italy full of pent-up lava.

When night comes and the day is over, the ardent protagonist guards her Master. She acts like a vigilant watchwoman. The protagonist says that she is a deadly foe to any intruder who may dare harm her Master. If she can spot the assaulter, she would release the trigger of the gun and shoot him dead. The “gun” in the poem is more than a metaphor. It is also literal. The protagonist knows how to wield the gun. There is something of the pioneer and the wild in the poem. The protagonist is such a deadly shot that the intruder has no chance to escape. He dies.

The protagonist, however, says at the end that He (perhaps the Master) is more likely to live longer than her. It would be better that he lives longer than the protagonist. It is true that the protagonist can press the trigger of the gun and kill, like a pioneer,- but she does not have the tenacity and the power to accept death. What the narrator wants to say is that only those who can accept death, who have the power to die, can redeem themselves. The poem moralises about the attitude towards death. Accepting death calmly is a greater virtue than killing the foe.

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