From Higgledy-Piggledy to Idiosyncracy: A Brief, Light Study of Metrics and the Poet’s Reception in Wendy Cope’s “Emily Dickinson”

Higgledy-piggledy is metrically identical to Emily Dickinson. So is idiosyncracy.

Wendy Cope used these sonic correspondences niftily in her poem “Emily Dickinson“:

Higgledy-piggledy
Emily Dickinson
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.

Nowadays, faced with such
Idiosyncrasy,
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.

One charming and effective technique in the poem is how the first stanza identifies E.D. with higgledy-piggledy-ness and then graduates her, in the second stanza to idiosyncracy.

This mirrors how E.D. was received historically: at first intolerably unconventional, and decades later undeniably artistic. It’s also how most of us individual readers experience her poems: first as a “What the *&^% is this alphabet soup?” And months (or years) later as a “This soup is pretty #$%^ good–never had anything quite like it!”

Well-written, Ms. Cope.

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