Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Close Reading of Publication is the Auction

Dickinson’s poem “Publication –is the Auction” deals with the speaker’s disdain toward the publication of an author’s works. The speaker seems to regard the act of publishing work as an act of selling oneself short, compromising one’s purity and integrity. In the first line, the speaker conveys the impersonality of publication by comparing it to an auction, something detached and businesslike. The speaker goes on to say that the only acceptable reason for publishing work is if the author is struggling with poverty and needs to publish to survive. Next, the speaker brings in personal experience by stating she would rather turn white because of staying in her attic and, presumably, writing poetry which will never be seen. The speaker also incorporates the concept of a higher being as the creator of thoughts. This higher being then passes thoughts on to the writer, or “Him Who bear / It’s Corporeal Illustration” (10-11). The image of a poem being something that can be bought and sold as a commodity continues throughout the poem.

Many of the words in this poem have more than one meaning and function in multiple ways. The word “publish” is used to mean both commercialization (i.e. publishing books for sale) and releasing something to...

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