Death in Emily Dickinson's Poetry


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Death in Emily Dickinson's Poetry

  1. 1. Rob Schule ENG 1102 Professor Owens February 28, 2009
  2. 2. <ul><li>The last several years of her life were plagued with death, sorrow, and illness </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Both parents died, in addition to several friends, a young nephew, and a love interest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Her sister and brother were also severely ill during these years </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Much of her poetry focused on the concept of death </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves And Immortality. </li></ul><ul><li>We slowly drove, he knew no haste, And I had put away My labor, and my leisure too, For his civility. </li></ul><ul><li>We passed the school, where children strove At recess, in the ring; We passed the fields of gazing grain, We passed the setting sun. </li></ul><ul><li>Or rather, he passed us; The dews grew quivering and chill, For only gossamer my gown, My tippet only tulle. </li></ul><ul><li>We paused before a house that seemed A swelling of the ground; The roof was scarcely visible, The cornice but a mound. </li></ul><ul><li>Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each Feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horses' heads Were toward eternity. </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>Harold Bloom states: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ She personifies the character of death and then dramatizes the experience: Death is portrayed as a genteel friend who ‘kindly’ stops to take her to her grave” (37). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lilia Melani writes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ She progresses from childhood, maturity (the “gazing grain” is ripe) and the setting (dying) sun to her grave.” </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died – </li></ul><ul><li>The Stillness in the Room </li></ul><ul><li>Was like the Stillness in the Air – </li></ul><ul><li>Between the Heaves of Storm – </li></ul><ul><li>The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – </li></ul><ul><li>And Breaths were gathering firm </li></ul><ul><li>For the last Onset – when the King </li></ul><ul><li>Be witnessed – in the Room – </li></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away </li></ul><ul><li>What portion of me be </li></ul><ul><li>Assignable – and then it was </li></ul><ul><li>There interposed a Fly – </li></ul><ul><li>With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz – </li></ul><ul><li>Between the light – and me – </li></ul><ul><li>And then the Windows failed – and then </li></ul><ul><li>I could not see to see – </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Bloom states, ““The central character is a fly, whose buzzing interrupts and exaggerates the silence of the scene – no shock, no sorrow, no desperation. The poem communicates the profundity of the experience though stillness and absence” (37). </li></ul><ul><li>However, Melani writes, “The poem describes a lull between ‘heaves,’ suggesting that upheaval preceded this moment and that more upheaval will follow,” which seems much more dramatic than the leisurely ride to the grave in “Because I could not stop for Death.” Melani also states that, in this poem, “the vision of death…is horrifying, even gruesome.” </li></ul><ul><li>Unlike “Because I could not stop for Death,” in which death is portrayed as a kindly suitor who takes the speaker on a leisurely ride to her grave, the tone of this poem seems to be anticipatory and anxious, as if the speaker is waiting for death. After all, she has “willed my Keepakes” (line 9). </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>Safe in their alabaster chambers, Untouched by morning and untouched by noon, Sleep the meek members of the resurrection, Rafter of satin, and roof of stone. Light </li></ul><ul><li>laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine; Babbles the bee in a stolid ear; Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence,-- Ah, what sagacity perished here! </li></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>Grand go the years in the crescent above them; Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row, </li></ul><ul><li>Diadems drop and Doges surrender, Soundless as dots on a disk of snow. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Paulson Herstek believes that Dickinson portrays “the dead waiting in their coffins for the resurrection while the rest of the world goes on without them” (64). </li></ul><ul><li>David Porter states that there is “severe imagery of the stillness of the tomb in contrast to the incessant motion in the universe outside” (46). </li></ul><ul><li>But, see Melani’s interpretation… </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Melani states: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It is possible that Dickinson, raised in the Puritan tradition, also has in mind the idea that God’s will can be seen in the working of nature. The Puritans saw in every fact of nature the working of God’s law; every physical happening paralleled and revealed as spiritual law. If Dickinson was thinking of nature symbolically for signs of God’s will and presence, then nature’s indifference reveals God’s indifference; the references to nature become even more ironic in that case. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>I died for beauty, but was scarce Adjusted in the tomb, When one who died for truth was lain In an adjoining room. </li></ul><ul><li>He questioned softly why I failed? &quot;For beauty,&quot; I replied. &quot;And I for truth,--the two are one; We brethren are,&quot; he said. </li></ul><ul><li>And so, as kinsmen met a night, We talked between the rooms. Until the moss had reached our lips, And covered up our names. </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Melani believes that “Dickinson shows the powerlessness of the human condition and the relentless indifference of nature to human being” in the image of the moss covering their lips and grave markers (lines 11-12). She states that, “death has ended all communication and effectiveness” and, therefore, they “’failed,’ rather than ‘died’.” </li></ul><ul><li>This poem, too, does not give such a glamorous interpretation of death as “Because I could not stop for Death.” It depicts nature as more powerful than human beings and the failure of human beings at the point of death. </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>Death is an obvious theme in many of Emily Dickinson’s poems </li></ul><ul><li>Not surprising considering the last several years of her life </li></ul><ul><li>What is surprising is the symbolism and imagery she uses to portray death, and her rejection of the Puritan religious traditions by which she was raised </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Bloom, Harold, ed. Comprehensive Research and Study Guide: Emily Dickinson . Broomall: </li></ul><ul><li>Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. 37. </li></ul><ul><li>Melani, Lilia. “Emily Dickinson.” 24 Feb. 2009. 28 Feb. 2009. </li></ul><ul><li><>. </li></ul><ul><li>---. “Emily Dickinson.” 24 Feb. 2009. 28 Feb. 2009. </li></ul><ul><li><>. </li></ul><ul><li>---. “Emily Dickinson – Death.” 25 Mar. 2001. 28 Feb. 2009. </li></ul><ul><li><>. </li></ul><ul><li>---. “Emily Dickinson – Death.” 25 Feb. 2009. 28 Feb. 2009. </li></ul><ul><li><>. </li></ul><ul><li>Paulson Herstek, Amy. Emily Dickinson: Solitary and Celebrated Poet . Berkeley Heights: </li></ul><ul><li>Enslow Publishers, 2003. 64. </li></ul><ul><li>Porter, David. “The Early Achievement.” Comprehensive Research and Study Guide: Emily </li></ul><ul><li>Dickinson . Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. 46. </li></ul><ul><li>Steffens, Bradley. The Importance of Emily Dickinson . San Diego: Lucent Books, 1998. 50. </li></ul>