Dickinson's 'The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man'

Who is the mysterious "man" in Dickinson's strange poem?

Emily Dickinson
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The enigmatic Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) saw only ten of her poems published while she was alive. Most of her work, more than 1,000 poems with their odd capitalization, liberal use of em dashes and iambic pentameter rhyming structure, was published after her death. But her works have helped to shape modern poetry.

Life of Emily Dickinson

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson was a reclusive figure, who took to wearing all white clothing and stayed confined to her home later in life. Whether she was eccentric or suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder is a matter hotly debated among Dickinson scholars.

She did not live her entire life at her family's Amherst home; she spent a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary but left before completing a degree, and visited Washington, D.C. with her father when he served in Congress. 

Dickinson's body of work also included correspondence with friends. Many of these letters contained original poems. 

After her death, her sister Lavinia collected Emily's vast collection of writing and attempted to organize it. Although early editors tried to "normalize" Dickinson's writing, taking out the unusual punctuation and random capitalized words, later versions of her work restored it to its unique glory, em dashes and all. 

Emily Dickinson's Poetry

With titles like "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," and "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," it's clear that Dickinson's poetry has a foreboding undertone. Many academics believe that all of Dickinson's poems can be interpreted to be about death, some overtly, some with more subtle turns of phrase.

Indeed, Dickinson's correspondence shows she was troubled by several deaths of people she was close to; a school friend died very young of typhoid fever, another of a brain disorder. It's not outside the realm of possibility that young Emily withdrew from social life because she was deeply affected by her losses.

Questions for Study of 'The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man'

Is this an example of a Dickinson poem in where she appears to be writing about one thing (the wind) but is actually writing about something else? In this poem, does the "wind" represent a man, or does it represent an existential fear of death, ever present and able to blow in and out as it pleases? Why is the man "tired?"

Here is the full text of Emily Dickinson's poem "The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man"

The wind tapped like a tired man,
And like a host, "Come in,"
I boldly answered; entered then
My residence within
A rapid, footless guest,
To offer whom a chair
Were as impossible as hand
A sofa to the air.
No bone had he to bind him,
His speech was like the push
Of numerous humming-birds at once
From a superior bush.
His countenance a billow,
His fingers, if he pass,
Let go a music, as of tunes
Blown tremulous in glass.
He visited, still flitting;
Then, like a timid man,
Again he tapped--'t was flurriedly--
And I became alone.
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Khurana, Simran. "Dickinson's 'The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man'." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-wind-tapped-like-a-tired-man-2831542. Khurana, Simran. (2021, February 16). Dickinson's 'The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-wind-tapped-like-a-tired-man-2831542 Khurana, Simran. "Dickinson's 'The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-wind-tapped-like-a-tired-man-2831542 (accessed June 7, 2023).