The poem Over The Fence like many others by Emily Dickinson depicts the theme of religion in a peculiar way. Dickinson had a way of expressing religion, which could seem unusual to most Christians at that time and even today. Most people consider God with reverence and respect, which Dickinson seems to overlook. It is also interesting to see the way she discloses the discomfort of life or religion she has in comparison to others. The poem Over The Fence is the manifestation of her admiration of the things she cannot reach with her hands because of religious limitations. Surprisingly, she thinks that God considers the situation in the same way she does. This is the most absurd idea about religion. Dickinson was curious about religion and she could not find answers or o agree with what people believed to be the gospel. Writing about Christianity at her time was common, but other poets took the direction opposite from hers. This essay will look at the way Dickinson expresses religion in the poem Over The Fence and its controversy with the contemporary religion.
The title of the poem is symbolic, which Dickinson uses to show the difference between the Christian world and the rest of the world. A fence separates two sides of things emphasizing a distinction in beliefs, faith and even character. In her poem, Dickison was talking from inside the fence as she admired the life outside the fence. The fence, in this sense, is the life outside the religion, which was separating her life from those who did not hold the same religious beliefs (Dickinson 154). The fence represents the rules that differentiate the life she has lived from that of others. That fence affected not only her, but also everyone bound by the same religion and even God, the supreme of that religion.
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Notably, Dickinson had incredible and unusual religious curiosity. Similarly to what Amitabh Roy argued in his article, Dickinson was aware of the presence of God and his indefinable ability over time, and human life, but she could not understand how different he was from human beings (Roy 5). In most of her poems, she would make a reference to God acknowledging his supreme presence. However, in this poem she seems to consider God no different from a man. Nevertheless, she agrees that God would scold her if she tried the life outside Christianity. At the same time, she seems to stress an idea that possibly even God admires the life outside Christianity. It is very controversial for Dickinson to express her doubt about God. People, who treat Christianity with high regard, consider God supreme to human understanding. When Dickinson suggests that if God was interested in trying life outside Christianity, if he could, then it would be contrary to the Christian faith (Roxanne 7). This peculiar thinking represents the strong cultic period of oppression of every independent idea during which Dickinson lived.
Lastly, Dickinson is firm in her religious beliefs, although she seems to confront their reality. Interestingly, even though Dickinson finds the life over the fence attractive, she chooses to stick to her religion. By saying “I could climb — if I tried, I know –”, she tells the readers that she did not want to try the life outside the fence. She shows contentment even though she admires the other life. Possibly, she could not denounce her faith because of the fear that God would scold her according to her words (Vendler 227). This depiction of compulsion tells the readers about the state of religion at the time of Dickinson’s writing. Even if she could clearly see that the life outside religion was as good and promising that even God would desire it, she could not go for it. She even thinks that some unexplainable reasons have made God stick to the Christian religion himself. By saying “Oh, dear, — I guess if He were a Boy — He’d — climb — if He could!”, Dickinson tries to show how unexplainable the religion is. According to her, it was impossible to understand God and know whether he was capable of going for the good life across the fence of faith (Smith, & Loeffelholz 78). In addition, it was impossible to tell what could hold him back from pursuing such a life. For the same reasons, Dickinson could not abandon her faith, although she admired the other life.
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Conclusively, Dickinson was curious about the faith she professed expressing her uncertainty about it in the poem, which addressed the issue of religion and how the author wished things were different. It is uncertain from the poem what made her hold on to the side of the fence, which did not have berries as she said. The inability to express what has held her back signifies her inability to understand the religious context she has been living in. Her approach to religion is controversial since most believers do not air their discontent or their doubt about God. Dickinson does not hesitate to express her doubt about how strong God desires the other life. In addition, the expression that she knows she can cross the fence and live on the other side but still does not do it, possibly explains the situation of most Christians. The fear of punishment from God and loss of immortality held Dickinson back from climbing over to the side where berries grew. The poem represents Dickinson’s questions about the reality of religion and faith, which can be representative of Christians’ lives.