The Poetry of ‘As If’: ‘The real — fictitious seems’

  • Joan Kirkby
Part of the Women Writers book series (WW)


Emily Dickinson’s poetry might well be called the poetry of ‘as if’, as she playfully, earnestly explores the propositions that occur to her about the nature of the world. In Poem 1454 she refers to ‘Costumeless Consciousness’ in such a way as to reveal her notion that in life consciousness inevitably adorns itself in costumes — fictions, hypotheses and propositions — which it imposes on the world. In an early letter to Abiah Root, she invents a fanciful tale of catching a cold and then remarks:

Now my dear friend, let me tell you that these last thoughts are fictions … They are flowers of speech, they both make, and tell deliberate falsehoods, avoid them as the snake, and turn aside as from the Bottle snake, and I dont think you will be harmed. (L 31)


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  1. 1.
    Jay Leyda, The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson, vol. I (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1960), p. 131.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hans Vaihinger, The Philosophy of ‘As If’: A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind, trans. by CK. Ogden (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), pp. xlii, 49.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind (Boston, James Loring, 1833), p. 145.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Tom Chetwynd, A Dictionary of Symbols (London, Paladin, 1982), p. 158.Google Scholar

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© Joan Kirkby 1991

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  • Joan Kirkby

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