Contrast – Emily Dickinson

Here is a simple poem from Emily Dickinson to illustrate the effective use of contrast in poetry creation.

Contrast

A door just opened on a street –
I, lost, was passing by –
and instant’s width of warmth disclosed,
and wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
I, lost, was passing by, –
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
Enlightening misery.

Emily Dickinson

To be lost walking the streets … on a cold winters night say, is something easily identified by many. I remember being in this position in London many years ago. But I never experienced the sudden surprise instant open-close of a door to reveal heavenly warmth, friendly company, and wealth. We can image the home to be rather nice in a well to-do-area of the city. Width is so well chosen providing alliteration.

The contrast in feelings is quite striking especially if we assume a party of great warmth and fun to be taking place, all be-it in our imagination. And we identify with the lost soul in the cold struggling on to find their whereabouts – their misery enlightened. I like the double use of that last word comparing the street with the inside of the briefly revealed brightness of the home.

Contrast is a rhetorical device through which writers identify differences between two subjects, places, persons, things, or ideas. Simply, it is a type of opposition between two objects, highlighted to emphasize their differences. Contrast comes from the Latin word, contra stare, meaning to stand against.

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