‘On a Columnar Self’ is a short poem by Emily Dickinson. The poem consist of three stanzas of four lines each. The poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme. In this poem, Emily Dickinson imagines the self as a column. What are some of the characteristics that can be associated with a column? Durability, Strength, Loftiness, Stability, to name a few. Well, the poet refers to these aspects of a column in the context of a human being.
The phrase ‘columnar self’’ refers to that self which has shaped itself up like a column. Such a self has many of the column’s desirable traits mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The poet begins by stating that such a columnar self would be sufficiently dependable even under difficult or extreme circumstances. A person with such a ‘self’ would have the strength and reliability to deal with such situations.
The poet finds relief at the certainty of the fact that such a person’s conviction cannot be pried open by a lever or divided by a wedge. The poet calls this conviction, the granitic base of the column. Just like the column’s granite base, the conviction of the columnar self has the strength and stability to not be easily dislodged.
Too often, people forgo their beliefs and convictions just to side with the majority, even when they know that they themselves are in the right. The poet says that the column-like self, will not compromise on its convictions, even when it finds itself alone.
The poet says that such a self would have the capacity to stand against the crowd. It would not be alone, though. It would have righteousness for company.
A combination of the self and righteousness would be a powerful combination indeed. The poet says that such a combination would be close to God. She calls God the furthest spirit. By this she refers to God’s status as the ultimate spirit, a spiritual status so far above that of mere mortals that it would be near impossible for anyone achieve it. However with firm convictions and righteousness, it would be possible to approach these levels of spiritual enlightenment.
This poem is a rallying cry for individualism. It states that the strength of the column-like self must not be underestimated and a person who is willing to go against the tide for just cause, would be on his/her path to achieving divinity.
The poet, who was somewhat of a recluse, did not conform to many norms of the society of her day, as is evident from some of her poems. She also followed a unique style of writing which did not follow the conventions of poetry of that time. She understood the power of one’s own convictions and knew that sometimes it was worth standing against the crowd for the sake of righteousness.