Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Romanticism in Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” College

Upon first read of Emily Dickinson’s poem “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed,” it appears to be a relatively straightforward piece whose main goal is to praise nature as a source of beauty and inspiration. Conventions of romanticism are employed to achieve this goal, and in Dickinson’s hands it succeeds wonderfully. However, when reading the poem with a consideration of Dickinson’s wit and aversion to poetic convention, another layer is discovered that elevates the poem above a simple exercise in romanticism. Ultimately, the poem stands as both an homage to, and a satire of, the romantic tradition, revealing an intellectual depth that would become a core component of modernist poetry.

In the first two stanzas of Dickinson’s poem, a figurative drunkenness is described that immediately invokes John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” Dickinson describes that the “liquor never brewed” on which she is drunk is nature itself: “Inebriate of air — am I / And Debauchee of Dew,” while Keats credits his drunk-like state to “the viewless wings of Poesy.” Each continue in their poetic intoxication to muse on nature’s majesty. Keats famously admires “the grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild,” and Dickinson feverishly devours the “endless...

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