Contentious Figuration: Poetic Language in Plath, Stevens, and Dickinson

Shu-Ching Wu, University of Colorado at Boulder


This thesis explores how metonymy functions as a different figurative possibility in Sylvia Plath' poetry and how metonymy as a transformative process of figuration relates to Wallace Stevens' poetic thinking on the relation between imagination and reality, and ends with a special focus on Emily Dickinson's lyric self. The discussion of Plath's and Stevens' figurative language is a gradual exploration of what role metonymy can play as a significant form of figuration in their works and how metonymy can contribute to discovering an internal force in their writings. It is with further understanding of these two poets' metonymic figuration that I will interrogate the relation between lyric poetry and its external contexts in Dickinson's poetry with an emphasis on a poem's internal force and with full awareness of how such a force can emerge through metonymy within a text.

Metonymy explains a fictional realm in writing where both the corporeal self and the corporeal other (such as, nature, the world or social/historical contexts) are transformed in the metonymic process of figuration, a process during which the temporal or spatial contiguous relationships among the constituent elements develop different levels of fictional reality. If what one perceives is not the world but "the world picture" (according to Heidegger) or one's "sense of the world" (according to Stevens), this fictional realm developed through metonymic contexts within a poem is no longer the corporeal world that the self confronts and thus cannot be accessed or defined through what time (a historical period) or what place (society or cultural context) this literary work is created.

The discussion of metonymy in both Plath's and Stevens' poetry helps clarify that the lyric self in Dickinson's poetry cannot be simply a mediated social existence because the lyric self is also mediated by the fictional other(s) within a text. Metonymy creates possibilities and imposes limits at the same time in a poetic narrative, where the self is mediated by the other and the other is an imagined construct by the self, where the spontaneous dialectical relation between the self and the other turns into a figurative possibility in poetry.