At first look at Emily Dickinson’s, “The Heart asks Pleasure—first—“, the poem is very confusing. However, Dickinson’s careful diction creates a sinfully pleasurable poem. The most obvious theme in the poem is that of pleasure vs pain, especially in love. The beginning of the poem begins by clearly stating that the Heart would like Pleasure. However, as the poem progresses, the desires of the Heart become more and more pressing and serious; from solely asking for Pleasure, to asking “to go to sleep”, then to asking for the “privilege to die”.
Dickinson capitalizes many words throughout the poem: Heart, Pleasure, And, Excuse, Anodynes, Inquisitor. This seems to personify these objects, making them proper nouns. She continues her personification by saying “The Heart asks Pleasure,” almost confirming that Inquisitor is a higher power since the Inquisitor is asked to grant the Heart this Pleasure. The “And’s” in the poem seem to give the poem a quicker pace. They seem to push the progression of the heart through a relationship and the emotions that the heart feels.
Knowing that Dickinson was pious, one may think that the Inquisitor likely refers to God or some other higher power, which would make sense. In many religions, God is the one who can give such a powerful privilege as the one to die. Also, an intentional death is against many religions so one would need permission to die. However, the Inquisitor may be a metaphor for the reader of the poem. The readers are able to easily relate to this love poem because we are inquisitive about love. The “privilege to die” may parallel heartbreak during a relationship. The poem seems to be an extreme yet logical pathway of a relationship—pleasure, pain, coping. The last part of the pathway is something that may be optional—the privilege to die or, in other words, never getting over the heartbreak. However, the last step is only possible if the Inquisitor, or the reader, allows it to happen.
The image that struck me the most was “those little Anodynes/ That deaden suffering.” While Anodynes do “deaden suffering”, there are so many alternate ways to present that definition. Her use of the word “deaden” clearly shows Dickinson’s morose tone of the poem, which is ironic—the poem begins by discussing pleasure. Also, the word “deaden” foreshadows the literal death that is seen in the last line of the poem. In addition, only one line speaks of pleasure, while the other seven discuss pain. This creates the sense that pain becomes more important, or more evident during a relationship.
Emily Dickinson’s “The Heart asks Pleasure—first—“ is a very short yet poignant poem. It gives the pathway of love seen through Dickinson’s eyes.