XVI    Metaphors and Similes containing Tensions Resolved in a Theme of Universal Human Significance

Raw Data                                    Data Gathering and Manipulation to "Construe the Poem" (Hirsch) and Speculate on its Significance

I'm wife; I've finished that,        The primary tension: married womanhood vs. unmarried girlhood [Implied resolution: marriage is better.]

That other state;                        <Deconstruct the ambiguous meanings hidden behind the "trace" of the main tension or binary terms.>

I'm Czar, I'm woman now:        Wives are powerful women; girls are powerless.

It's safer so.                                <Locate the middle terms between the "trace" meanings of the main tension or binary terms.>


How odd the girl's life looks    Unpack the metaphors:

Behind this soft eclipse!        Marriage gently obscures the feeble, earthly pleasures of girlhood with the heavenly experience of wifehood.

I think that earth seems so

To those in heaven now.        Marriage's superiority must be as unknowably profound as salvation's vs. earthly life.


This being comfort, then        Wifehood comforts with security, whereas girlhood suffers the pains of insecurity.

That other kind was pain;       <Detect silenced or oppressed voices in the poem that speak against ideologically powerful privilege.>

But why compare?

I'm wife! stop there!        Wifehood is so superior to being unmarried that it is incomparable. 

The last two lines are also the only rhyming couplet, and it's plain speech, which poets like Sidney and Shakespeare use in preference to ornamented speech, so the speaker has resolved the tension of the preceding three stanzas using poetic devices to state a transcendental, timeless truth.

A Demonstration "Part Two" for "Working with Deconstruction"

New Criticism's Interpretation Says:  The poem "XVI" consists of three stanzas in which the speaker examines her newly married state and asserts its power in relation to her former unmarried state, using the metaphor "wife=Czar" to describe the heady sense of power she experiences now, and the metaphor of a "soft eclipse" to describe what has happen to "the girl's life" she has left behind, in a succeeding simile, as "earth" might appear to Christian souls in heaven. The comparison produces an aesthetic tension between male-associated power and female identity, and between the unmarried world and the potentially unknown world of marriage, emphasized by the fact that the speaker never names any form of the word, "marriage."  In the final stanza, the speaker attempts to culminate her comparison by asserting marriage's "comfort" against girlhood's "pain," but suddenly terminates the comparison in an exclamatory rhyming couplet, the only one in the poem, asserting that to be "Wife" is sufficient in itself, without simile, metaphor, or other comparison. 

Deconstruction Says: The poem re-enacts women's perennial struggle between the attractions of single autonomy and the social power conferred by marriage, and dramatically refuses to end in an aesthetically beautiful poetic device, asserting a tautological repetition of the first line and finally "finishing" the process of "finishing that / . . . other state" of girlhood.  Unlike sentimental C19 poems praising the married state in rhyming tetrameter stanzas using predictably comfortable similes and metaphors, Dickinson's poem's jagged sentence structure and tentative, questing phrasing, combined with the sudden end in the rhymed question and exclamation, re-enact women's psychological confrontation with marriage's challenge to their identities.  In the world of the poem, we can infer, the "wife" also has changed her name to "Mrs. Husband's Name," so this questioning process even could be said to arise from a specific social custom expressing the wife's (and not the husband's) changed identity in matrimony.  Instead of simply proclaiming this new identity, the poem also writes over it, obscuring who "that girl" might once have been with the erasures "Wife," "Czar," and "woman." A hard-core Deconstructionist critic might go on to discuss the new meanings the poem generates by this strategy by calling the results "Wife," a being who thinks she is most powerful when she is most subservient," "Czar," that being's male fantasy of power that overwrites her fear, and "woman,"the result of the uneasy union of those first two terms under erasure as they strive unsuccessfully to obliterate "girl."