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“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson


The writer speaks of a force that has tried to limit her ability to write in prose and compares this to a time when she was young and they tried to lock her up in a closet in a bid to silence her and make her still. She goes on to point out that they have not succeeded at all in these attempts because the efforts are as futile as charging a bird for treason in the pound, “could themselves have peeped and seen my brain go round” is a way of the writer saying that she was not captive at all and was still free. She has but to will and so easily set herself free.

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The phrases used are short but loaded with meaning and various stylistic devises have been employed to give meaning to the poem. For instance the simile, “they shut me up in Prose –as when a little Girl they put me in the Closet” is used to compare the two instances when the mysterious “they” tried to hold her captive. Again, easy as a star, on the last stanza is also used perfectly to give meaning to this poem. The persona is a person who believes in their own power to stay free and gives the poem a scornful tone in an effort to show the powers trying to imprison her that they are powerless over her.

Words used in an unusual ways include ‘still’ at the end of the first stanza and at the start of the second. It is used in the place of the word ‘yet’ in the second instance and simply means; could they have taken time to peep at her brain after putting her in the closet, they could have seen what they were blind to. In the first instance, it is used to stress that even after locking her up, she was still liked. Another word used in an unusual manner is wise in the third line of the second stanza. It is used to mean ‘as well as’.


The poet uses simple words in her poem but gives them a lot of meaning such that the poem is short but tells a long story. Some of the metaphors used include “put me in the closet” used to describe the control “they” tried to impose on her when she was still young. Similes pepper the poem all through including “easy as a star” that is used to express how easily the persona escapes from her captors. Additionally, the predicament of the writer is compared to that of a bird lodged in the pound which can easily get free. Further to that, the reason for her captivity is scorned at and compared to the laughable action of arresting a bird for treason. This is because, the powerful voices tried to limit the free expression of the writer while, this is not possible given that they can’t keep her mind free. The poet also makes use of imagery when she alleges that the captor could see her brain go round. This is used to mean that she was so feeble, that the captors really thought they could understand all that was going on in her mind.

The word ‘still’ is used repetitively and serves to stress that there was no limiting the free expression that is part of the writer’s natural form. It is also ironical that the captors of the persona would like her, and at the same time capture her and put her in the closet as the first stanza, last line says. If they really liked her, then they would not have taken her freedom away. The poet makes use of paradox when she talks about freeing herself easily despite being locked up as in the third stanza.

The poet also expresses ambiguity when she says she is put in a closet because they liked her. The phrase could mean lack of freedom to the poet, looking at it from the poet’s eye, but if looked at from the captor’s point of view, it could also mean that the captors caged her to protect her for the love they had for her.

Theme and Pattern of the Poem

The poem is as much about the restrictiveness of captivity as it is about freedom. The writer expresses a fact that the powers that always want to restrict and hold some people or things captive enhance their freedom instead in the process. The captors are expressed as people who are so full of themselves, thinking that they have it all. They could represent the few worldly elites, dictators, politicians and generally those in power. The poem can be used as a realization to the keepers of power. Taking the example of political activists who have been jailed by various regimes in many parts of the world, it is notable that cracking down on them gives rise to even more voices of dissent that in the long run become so strong as to overrun these powers.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 20). “They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, December 20). “They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson.

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"“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson." StudyCorgi, 20 Dec. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson." December 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson." December 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson." December 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“They Shut Me Up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson'. 20 December.

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