The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
Emily Dickinson’s “The Soul selects her own Society” was composed in 1862 and published posthumously in Poems by Emily Dickinson in 1890. The poem is composed in iambic trimeter with the occasional line in tetrameter, using dashes to interrupt flow and create dramatic pauses.
Dickinson’s characteristic use of seemingly out-of-place dashes and capital letters help to set the somber mood of the poem. The speaker of the poem starts out by saying that the, “Soul selects her own Society— / Then—shuts the Door.” Once the door is shut no one else is allowed through, not even “an Emperor be kneeling / Upon her Mat—.” This indicates that the speaker rejects larger society and creates her own society based on her individual self, indifferent to wealth or status. The speaker separates the individual from society, or the “divine Majority,” and “from an ample nation— / Chooses One.” In this way the speaker shuts people out her life. The “Valves of her attention,” like the valves of her heart, are “Like Stone—” to everyone except the “One”. It is open to interpretation whether the choice of whom the speaker lets in is made on whether they were deemed worthy enough, or perhaps that the speaker had no choice at all. Dickinson capitalizes “Soul” personifying it. This indicates that the speaker does not have conscious control over the “Soul.” It is as if the “Soul” makes choices of its own will. The “Soul” decides instead of the mind. Even if the speaker is missing out on great people, like an “Emperor,” it is too late to open the door.
Marijane Suttor reads “The Soul selects her own Society” in the context of Dickinson’s life. “This poem allows the reader a sense of her inner thoughts about her own reclusive nature.” It is known that during the 1860s Dickinson became reclusive. She withdrew from society and never left the family property, only interacting with her family members and close friends. Suttor writes that the poem “gives the sense that perhaps others were telling her that she needed to broaden her ‘society.’ It appears that this is Emily Dickinson responding to this type of observation from others indicating that who she accepted into her society was not her decision; instead it came from her soul.
In this reading “The Soul selects her own Society” registers Dickinson’s social anxiety. During her lifetime she rarely published her writing. But when she did it was anonymous. She only allowed those closest to her to read her work and experience her inner conciseness.
Bibliography and Further Reading Frequently-Asked Questions | Emily Dickinson Museum; Marijane Suttor, Poetry Analysis the Soul Selects Her Own Society by Emily Dickinson, Poets and Poetry; “Emily Dickinson.” Emily Dickinson. University of Illinois.
Credits Composed by Rose O’Callaghan, Spring 2017.