The Curse of a Loaded Gun

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

In Corners – till a Day

The Owner passed – identified –

And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods –

And now We hunt the Doe –

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light

Upon the Valley glow –

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let its pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –

I guard My Master’s Head –

’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –

None stir the second time –

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –

Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power to kill,

Without – the power to die –

Emily Dickinson’s poem number 754 really stood out to me as I read it for the first time.  I had to stop and read it two, then three, then four more times.  I was grabbed in the very first line: “My Life stood – a Loaded Gun”.  From this line alone, the reader can see the desperate situation that the speaker finds herself in.  To understand this deeper, one must take time to think about what a loaded gun is.  Guns carry a negative connotation because of their typical purpose: to kill.  However, a gun on its own is not enough to show the desperate place of the speaker.  A gun by itself still has a purpose, but no power.  With the inclusion of the detail of “Loaded gun” it adds a deeper layer of despair.  This detail not only shows a purpose, but the ability and, even more perhaps, the intent to carry out the purpose.

The poem continues as the speaker refers to herself the rest of the poem as this “Loaded gun”.  It is made clear that the speaker, taking the form of a gun, has an owner as most guns do.  She mentions how they do activities together, how she protects him.  While the speaker refers to these as somewhat pleasurable, it is rather clear that she is increasingly uncomfortable with this situation.  In the last stanza, we once again see the curse that the speaker finds herself in.  She says: “Though I than He – may longer live/ He longer must –than I”.  When we read this with the knowledge that she sees herself as a loaded gun, we see that this statement is true.  The gun will outlive its owner because it cannot die.

However, if we assume that this poem is actually referring to an actual person and not simply a gun, we can read this a little differently.  This last stanza has a sad and somewhat desperate undertone.  Especially the last two lines which read: “For I have but the power to kill, Without – the power to die ­–“.  The speaker is not content with her situation.  She no longer seems to want to “kill” others but rather wants to be the one to die herself.  This despair that the speaker finds herself in is where I resonated with this poem the most; trying to live in the gap between the place she desires and the place she has the power to be.

There is still one more thought to be found in this poem.  When the “Owner” comes in the first stanza of the poem and notices the condition of the speaker, he takes her and uses her, fueling her hurt (desire to die/kill).  He “hunts” with her and uses her to protect him from his foes.  He uses the “loaded gun” and in turn brings more destruction and makes the distance between the condition the speaker is in and the condition she wants to be even greater.  She no longer wants to hurt others, but that is the only result that can come from a loaded gun.

Therefore, we see the solution seems to be that in order for one to be healed of his or her hurt, he or she must take away their power to “kill” altogether.  To close the gap, the speaker must abandon the loaded gun.  However, thinking back to the idea of a “Loaded gun”, the reader sees that this means abandoning the intent to kill as well, and even more, the desire to die herself – the only reason the gap exists in the first place.


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