Emily Dickinson had a Dog: An Interpretation of the Human–Dog Bond

Author: Adams, Maureen

Source: Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 September 1999, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 132-137(6)


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The study examines selected letters and poems of the poet Emily Dickinson to better understand the relationship between Dickinson and her Newfoundland dog Carlo. Citations from these sources indicate that Carlo helped Dickinson feel protected, that his presence soothed her anxiety, and that she used the dog as a go-between with other people. Eventually, the poet came to appreciate Carlo's silence as a witness to her creative process. The study also looks at their relationship from the deeper levels of psychology and myth. From a psychological perspective, Carlo is seen to function as a selfobject in Dickinson's inner life. In the myths from many cultures, dogs appear as guides, guardians, healers, and psychopomps. During their years together, Carlo embodied each of these roles for Dickinson. Together, the three approaches – primary source material, psychology and myth – reveal how Carlo's quiet presence helped Dickinson transform inner turmoil into poetry and suggest the transformative potential possible in any interspecies relationship.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279399787000192

Publication date: September 1, 1999

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