Imperceptibility Analysis Essay

Now, I think loving this poem may be a stretch of the imagination for me, this is the one I have struggled the most with and find the trickiest to teach . This may be a reason to really try harder with this poem than the others, perhaps! It is poignant in the reading though and has a very calm, tranquil and peaceful mood and atmosphere to it.

How do I approach this poem?

First, with a dictionary challenge and to be done in table groups I display the words: imperceptibly, grief, distilled, sequestered, courteous, perfidy and then ask students to find and write the definition down in their books. I’ll take feedback and question the students to show they understand the words. Sometimes I will ask them to verbally put them in a sentence to show their understanding, or I’ll get them to explain what the word suggests you should do. I think it is really important with this poem to know the meanings of the words, or else the students won’t understand the poem at all!

Then, I will ask them to answer these three questions before reading the poem:

  • Who feels grief and what does it look like?
  • Is it an abstract noun?
  • What does grief suggest to you about the poem before we read it?

The reason I do this is to try and get the students to be thinking more deeply about emotions and how these might present themselves in a person. Again, I’ll take feedback from the class and break down their answers, until I am certain that they have a level of understanding about grief and how this can affect the emotions. Sometimes, I will get them to come up with synonyms for grief as well, so that we can explore how the word you use for this feeling can change the severity of how you feel.

Then, we’ll read the poem. I’ll ask them to answer a range of questions as they annotate the poem.

  • What are the main emotions, thoughts and feelings shown in the poem and how are these presented to the reader? (annotate these and write what the emotion is next to the line)
  • How is the summer fading used as a metaphor in the poem?
  • What does the one verse stanza suggest about grief?
  • How would you categorise the poem (theme)?
  • What is the mood and atmosphere in the poem and does it change?
  • What lines/phrases or words stand out to you?
  • What techniques have you identified? (explain effect)

As the students are doing these questions, in a broken down way (I stagger showing the questions, so that students work carefully on selected questions before moving on) I will circulate the class and prompt them, ask them questions and answer any questions that they have and sometimes stop the class if there is points that need clarifying or there is an excellent point made by a member of the class. At the end of the questions and when the poems have been annotated, I will ask the students to share their thoughts about the poem with each other. Normally, this will be whole class as I will have encouraged them while answering the questions to discuss their thoughts with each other.

The Context

Finally, I will introduce the context to students and this is where I don’t have as much information as I would like, but I have struggled (as I know others have with this for this poem in particular).

  • Emily Dickinson read widely, but spent a lot of her life closed away, refusing visitors, writing poetry.
  • Her bedroom overlooked a graveyard from age 10 to 25
  • Her dad: Edward a United States Congressman and she was interested in politics.
  • The American Civil War affected her, as a friend died
  • Five of her school friends died of consumption

Then, I’ll ask them to identify a piece (or pieces) of information from the context that they have used and link it to the poem. For example: ‘The dusk drew earlier in’ could link to her passing time in her bedroom watching the day arrive as a regular occurrence. They will feedback their ideas and I’ll ask everyone to add to their own points anything they may have missed.

Finally, I might get them to write a short creative piece as a homework task. Imagine you can’t leave your bedroom. How would your life shrink? What would you notice every day? How would you feel and why? (idea stolen from @daveg5478 – Thanks)

Or, I might get them to write a single poem essay, using the Place Mats that I created last year on how to structure the essay and a short reminder of the analysis skills. If I do ask them to write an essay I might model how to get started live on the board to remind them of the way to approach essays and as a reminder to embed context as they analyse, not just to plonk it in as a separate example.

An essay that may be useful later (however, I am by no means an expert on this!)

Here is a copy of the essay: OTT Essay As Imperceptibly as Grief

I have looked at how Dickinson presents ideas about nature in the poem

Emily Dickenson was a reclusive figure, who didn’t go out much, however she did write prolifically in her lifetime using her poetry as a way of expressing her thoughts, feelings and emotions. In this poem ‘grief’ and time passing ‘lapsed away’ is used to reflect these thoughts. When she died her poetry was discovered and published, which could be seen as an upsetting fact, as she never understood that her work was enjoyed by others.

In the poem a sense of grief and being reclusive is prevalent with the repetition of title in the first line “As imperceptibly as grief, the summer lapsed away” which is a gentle metaphor for summer fading into autumn gradually and without a fuss. Here the effect is gentle through the use of the verb “lapsed” which suggests something happening quietly and slowly, there is no sudden movement and no shock to the event, just a matter of fact recognition that the seasons fade into each other and that this is natural, as is death and grief. It is ‘imperceptible’ perhaps, as it just happens and almost sneaks up on you, meaning that you have no control over these events; the seasons or the grief. Perhaps, the effect Dickinson wants to create is one of acceptance, as we can’t change these things, so perhaps instead have to go with them. This would reflect her reclusive nature as she would have had a lot of time on her hands and therefore would be more likely to notice the passing of time and the unstoppable nature of this. Again, she repeats the idea that it is so unassuming that you hardly notice it and cannot call it “perfidy” meaning it is not a deceitful change of season; it is just a change that happens and that should be seen as natural.

As the poem moves on, a sense of days closing in on themselves is reflected with the simile of “As twilight long begun” suggesting that the time between day and night has arrived but is in no hurry, suggesting a sense that day and night are in harmony and night will arrive when it is ready. A sense of place is suggested in the poem due to the lack of any change, however this might reflect the idea that to watch nature and really see it, you don’t have to move, you just have to observe and the persona in the poem appears to observe the change in the seasons very keenly. Nature is personified beautifully suggesting that a person only needs themselves and nature as a companion, “Nature spending with herself/Sequestered Afternoon” with the enjambment between the lines reinforcing the idea that nature is happy to be alone with time, as well as being closeted with the middle of the day. It could also create an effect of isolation or loneliness, but I very much feel that there is a calmness and acceptance of this in the poem as the pace is gentle and suggests that there is no need to worry about time passing or of being alone. Then as “The Dusk drew in” we get a sense that day is ending, but the cycle of life will repeat itself when “Morning foreign shone” suggesting that with every new day, possibilities abound. The use of the adjective ‘foreign’ to describe the morning implies that the new day is strange, unnatural and has an element of suspicion around it, however juxtaposing this with “shone” alludes to a sense of hope and familiarity, as if there is an inevitability about the day, something good will happen. Perhaps, Dickinson is using this to create a sense of hope.  As a schoolgirl Dickinson experienced the death of five friends from consumption, which was a horrible disease that caused pain and suffering, so perhaps the sense of grief within the poem, which is quietly juxtaposed with hope could reflect the fact that all humanity suffer, but that life does continue and move forward.  Dickinson then juxtaposes “A courteous, yet harrowing Grace” which suggests that the sun is a welcome distraction, which is eager to move on as the summer fades. The oxymoron in this phrase also implies that there are two sides to the feeling; it is a relief “Grace” that this is happening, yet also a problem “harrowing”.  These lines suggest that summer is ending and while it is difficult, it is also right that the summer should fade. The simile “As guest that would be gone” reinforces the idea of the summer almost outstaying its welcome and that it should rightfully fade away now and allow the autumn to take its place.

The final 4 lines reflect that this is a seamless move by nature in ending the summer and beginning the autumn. We see “without a wing/Or service of a Keel” meaning nothing to steady us, the summer has escaped and gone leaving behind darker, colder days. However, the final metaphor “into the beautiful” gives a hint or suggestion that summer will be back and is just resting. A more metaphorical reading could be that this is a poem about the inevitability of ageing and the idea that no-one can stop time. The summer may be reflecting younger days and the autumn arriving to reflect the older years in life. Summer is possessed with “Our” and this could reflect the personalisation of this into the more metaphorical developing of life into an inevitable older age and then death.

Dickinson may have been preoccupied with the seasons as a result of being “Sequestered” in her room; however this didn’t mean that she was alone as she corresponded widely with a variety of figures. So, although the poem appears to be about seclusion, time passing, the seasons and the cycle of life, Dickinson was very aware of what was happening in the real world and this could be seen to be reflected in her poem “As Imperceptibly as Grief” as she could be highlighting how little control humanity has over the passing of time.

Help Please:

I am really not an expert and would love to hear how other people approach this poem and also whether I have misconceived or misunderstood anything. It would be really useful if other people could comment on this, as it has been the poem that I have struggled to teach the most, out of all the poems!

Here is a copy of the PowerPoint that accompanies this lesson: As Imperceptibly as Grief

  • Blog Series 1 Link: Overview of Poetry Approach by the Department
  • Blog Series 2 Link: The Manhunt by Armitage
  • Blog Series 3 – Link: Sonnet 43 by Barrett Browning
  • Blog Series 4 – Link: London by Blake
  • Blog Series 5 – Link: The Soldier by Brooke
  • Blog Series 6 – Link: Walks in Beauty by Byron
  • Blog Series 7 – Link:  – Living Space by Dharker
  • Blog Series 8 – Link: As Imperceptibly as Grief by Dickenson
  • Blog Series 9 – Link:  Cozy Apologia by Dove
  • Blog Series 10 – Link Valentine by Duffy
  • Blog Series 11 – Link A Wife in London by Hardy



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Transcript of As Imperceptibly as Grief

As Imperceptibly as Grief
"As Imperceptibly as Grief"
Type of Poem

Literal terms: the setting is in the season of summer and its transition to another season
Symbolic terms: the setting is inside of the speaker's mind as well as time
Thematic terms: the setting is based on the grief of the transition of sentiments along with the nostalgia of the detachment of old sentiments as well as the speakers thoughts of the departure of emotions and their comparison to the departure of one season to allude to the departure of an emotion to bring another.
Consistent or Varied, Connection to the Meaning
Speaker &
Qualities from the Poem
Occasion & Setting
The poem is consistent because it flows smoothly and portrays the theme all throughout the poem through the mind of the reader and their outlook on emotions.
Transition of emotions between the seasons is shown throughout the whole poem.
The poem has four stanzas like the stages of summer to compare to the speaker's emotions and the stages of emotions
Structure, diction,
and euphony
Uses blank verse because there is no rhyme scheme and mostly expresses reflection towards their thoughts about their emotions
The speaker uses formal diction throughout poem to express perspective towards the cycle of emotions and how they must eventually go, like the seasons. Their word choice creates a somber atmosphere with a melancholic attitude, making the poem seem nostalgic of the emotions that the speaker describes.
Ex: "As
as grief" Imperceptibly means subtle or gradual which can allude to the departure of emotions that they compare to summer and its departure to becoming another season.
Ex: "A courteous, yet
grace" Harrowing means acutely distressed which alludes to the departure of emotions and how they anticipates for them to leave, like a guest who has outstayed their welcome. The same can be said about their emotions and how they believe they have outstayed their welcome in their mind. However, the poem is shown that the speaker feels distressed in some way by having their old emotions leave so that can also show that the speaker finds their emotions leaving to be something distressing. Like they were only a guest in her mind and are now leaving.
The poem is a euphony because it expresses the attachment of sentiments but shows it in a way that is calm and gentle towards the reader. It is not shown to be rash and full of emotion or questioning, but more pondering on the thought of emotions and comparing them to something that many can relate to, like the coming and going of seasons.

Figurative Language

"As imperceptibly as grief" Simile
"Nature, spending with herself" Personification
"sequestered afternoon" Personification
"a courteous, yet harrowing grace" Person., Symbol
"as guests who would be gone" Simile, Symbol
"or summer made her light escape" Person., Symbol

The figurative language included in this poem aids the overall personification of summer and the creation of a delicate, short lived essence paired with something graceful. It allows readers to get the message that some beauties, though recurrent, cannot be taken for granted. Such soul-enriching occurrences deserve to be acknowledged/glorified for they are not factors that last
We may praise them and desire them, but never
tangibly preserve it.
Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,—
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.
And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.
First Stanza
mournful; misses the time summer was here, summer is disappearing
Second Stanza
nostalgic/lonely; nature's quietness/stillness
Twilight: a period/state of obscurity, ambiguity, or gradual decline.
Sequestered: isolated/hidden away

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away,—
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,—
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.

Perfidy: deceitfulness;/ untrustworthiness.
The poem is an blank verse because their is no rhyme scheme, but has a common meter of alternating lines with the first and third in a stanza being 8 syllables, and the second and fourth having 6 syllables.
Fits style by comparing the departure of emotions to the departure of summer
Creates a melancholic feel to the poem while explaining the comparison that the speaker feels from the departure of summer as well as the coming of a new season which can be taken as the departure of emotions and the coming of new emotions.
The tones lead to the speaker's realization
that summer and emotions must leave.
In the beginning, the speaker feels a
longing towards summer, then feels
sad and lonely that summer is no longer here.
At the end, the speaker understands that
summer must leave in order to come back.
Just like seasons, our emotions have cycles.
Tone cont...
Third Stanza
melancholy/gloomy; departure of
summer (days are shorter). Knows that summer is temporary.
Fourth Stanza
Resigned; acceptance. Summer will go.
Only one speaker
Personality of the speaker is somber yet mature. However, the information about the speaker is unclear.
Speaker never clearly states which gender or race they are. This can lead the reader to believe the speaker dedicated the poem to diversity and equality for all who read it.
A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away,—
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.
Theme Statement
The transition of seasons as well as emotions allude to the melancholic cycle of the speaker from the attachment and departure of old sentiments and how ultimately, all things must come to an end.
Emily Dickinson did a good job in her ability to communicate her idea of sentiments and compare them to the loss and beauty of summer and the transition of a new season and emotions
Used devices like allusion, imagery, symbolism, similie & personification to convey her perspective towards the cycle of emotions and to personify summer in order to allude to her own emotions and her thoughts about them.
(situation faced)
Emily Dickinson

Was born on December, 10, 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts
Seldom left her house and rarely had an visitors but when she did, they impacted her a lot especially in her writing
Had one brother and one sister whom she recognized as not only family, but also intellectual companions
Her poetry was heavily influenced by metaphysical poets in the eighteenth century
During her life, Emily Dickinson was not recognized for her work until after her death in 1886
Emily Dickinson, throughout
her many poems, exemplifies the idea of
expressing thoughts on environments and ideas
thought otherwise to be of ineffable detail. She
perceived the world around her but remained an
observer, often times addressing how ephemeral events
in life come to be. She wrote on what intrigued her to levels high enough to heighten an experience that would have otherwise been a passive occurrence. Such ideology can be found within the following poem.

Full transcript

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