Emily Dickinson’s Death PoemsBy: michael BifolcoE-mail: emailprotectedEmily Dickinson’s world was her father’s home and garden in a small New England town. She lived most of her life within this private world. Her romantic visions and emotional intensity kept her from making all but a few friends. Because of this life of solitude, she was able to focus on her world more sharply than other authors of her time were. Her poems, carefully tied in packets, were discovered only after she had died. They reveal an unusual awareness of herself and her world, a shy but determined mind.
Every poem was like a tiny micro-chasm that testified to Dickinson’s life as a recluse. Dickinson’s lack of rhyme and regular meter and her use of ellipsis and compression were unimportant as long as her poetry was encouraged by it. Although some find her poetry to be incomprehensible, illiterate, and uneducated, most find that her irregular poetic form are her original attempts at liberating American poetry from a stale heritage. Her poetry was the precursor to the modern spirit with the influence of transcendentalism not puritanism.
Her treatment of Death and profound metaphysical tendencies were part of the singular nature of her genius. Emily’s simple language draws rich meanings from common words. The imagery and metaphors in her poetry are taken from her observations of nature and her imagination. She approached her poetry inductively, combining words to arrive at a conclusion the pattern of words suggested, rather than starting with a specific theme or message.
Her use of certain words resulted in one not being able to grasp her poetry with only one reading. She paid minute attention to things that nobody else noticed in the universe.” She was obsessed with death and its consequences especially the idea of eternity.
She once said, “Does not Eternity appear dreadful to you I often get thinking of it and it seems so dark to me that I almost wish there was no Eternity. To think that we must forever live and never cease to be. It seems as if death which all so dread because it launches us upon an unknown world would be a relief to so endless a state of existence.” Dickinson heavily believed that it was important to retain the power of consciousness after life. The question of mental cessation at death was an overtone of many of her poems. The imminent contingency of death, as the ultimate source of awe, wonder, and endless questions, was life’s most fascinating feature to Dickinson.
Dickinson challenges the mysteries of death with evasion, despair, curiosity or hope in her poetry as means to clarify her curiosity. From examining her poems of natural transitions of life and death, changing states of consciousness, as a speaker from beyond the grave, confronting death in a journey or dream and on the dividing line of life and death one can see that Dickinson points to death as the final inevitable change. The intensity of Dickinson’s curiosity about dying and her enthusiasm to learn of the dying persons’ experience at the point of mortality is evident in her poetry.
She studies the effect of the deads’ disappearance, on the living world, in a hope to conjecture something about the new life they are experiencing after death. Dickinson believes that a dying person’s consciousness does not die with the body at death but rather it lives on and intensifies. In To know just how He suffered-would be dear To know just how He suffered — would be dear — To know if any Human eyes were near To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze — Until it settle broad — on Paradise — To know if He was patient — part content — Was Dying as He thought — or different — Was it a pleasant Day to die — And did the Sunshine face his way — What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God — Or what the Distant say — At news that He ceased Human Nature Such a Day — And Wishes — Had He Any — Just His Sigh — Accented — Had been legible — to Me — And was He Confident until Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well — And if He spoke — What name was Best — What last What One broke off with At the Drowsiest — Was He afraid — or tranquil — Might He know How Conscious Consiousness — could grow — Till Love that was — and Love too best to be — Meet — and the Junction be Eternity expresses her belief about the experience of dying and her wonderment of what happens during death. Dickinson suggests that the dying person’s final gaze will be on paradise as if at the point of death it sees what is to come. Dickinson herself wants, “to know just how he suffered To know if any Human eyes were near To know if He was patient” many questions like these are raised as to the experiences of the dying. She probes at the implications of leaving the living, searching for the strength of deaths appeal, and wondering abou the junction of love that existed during life and love that is to be, after life. Questions are raised about the person’s attachments to the world already known rather than insights into another world after death.
The impossibility of Dickinson to fully penetrate the mysteries of the afterlife does not allow for insight into this other world. Since she could not follow the dead beyond her world Dickinson focused on their effect on the world they left behind. She searched for answers from the dead as they lay in their resting-places in Safe in their Alabaster Chambers. Safe in their Alabaster Chambers — Untouched my Morning And untouched by Noon — Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection — Rafter of satin, And Roof of stone. Light laughs the breeze In her Castle above them — Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear, Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence — Ah, what sagacity perished here! The Alabaster chamber, “untouched by morning and untouched by noon, ” represents the tomb of the dead and their separation from the world. Dickinson concludes that she finds no answers from the dead because she is unable to understand their world.
However, she knows that they are only sleeping and will come back when they are resurrected. Spoken from beyond the grave, Because I could not stop for Death Because I could not stop for Death– He kindly stopped for me– The Carriage held but just Ourselves– and Immortality. We slowly drove–He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility– We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess–in the Ring– We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain– We passed the Setting Sun– Or rather–He passed Us– The Dews drew quivering and chill– For only Gossamer, my Gown– My Tippet only Tulle We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground– The Roof was scarcely visible– The Cornice–in the Ground– Since then–‘Tis Centuries–and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses Heads Were toward Eternity– has an imaginary person, not Dickinson who would be looking beyond into death, but content with the routine of the life, looking back from death into the living world which she has disappeared from. She had been too busy to stop her work while she was living so death, “kindly stopped, ” for her. As she passes the children, the Gazing Grain and finally the setting sun, we see the stages of life, childhood, maturity, and old age, respectively. Not only Death has come for the woman, “The Carriage held but just Ourselves and Immortality.”Again Emily focuses on the previous world and on mortality and can not see into death and immortality. Dickinson represents death’s finality by stressing the continued presence of objects no longer valuable or meaningless, and on the ceasing of activities that had characterized life.
Immobility in death is the best evidence of death’s withdrawal from life because of the respect given to one’s actions during life. The cessation of common and routine activities in life are represented as idle hands of the dead in Death sets a Thing significant Death sets a Thing significant The Eye had hurried by Except a perished Creature Entreat us tenderly To ponder little Workmanships In Crayon, or in Wool, With “This was last Her fingers did” — Industrious until — The Thimble weighed too heavy — The stitches stopped — by themselves — And then ’twas put among the Dust Upon the Closet shelves — A Book I have — a friend gave — Whose Pencil — here and there — Had notched the place that pleased Him — At Rest — His fingers are — Now — when I read — I read not — For interrupting Tears — Obliterate the Etchings Too Costly for Repairs. when Dickinson writes, “At Rest – His fingers are.” Although these activities are unimportant after death they are of value and evidence of involvement in the living world. Mentioning the, “little Workmanships,” and other insignificant aspects of life, is Dickinson’s way of representing the pettiness and simplicity of life in contrast to her view of death as a revelation of the conscious, bringing it to a higher level of understanding. She tries to show how after death things become significant that weren’t while you were living, for her this is part of the grieving process. The focus on a mundane creature like a fly in I heard a fly buzz when I died I heard a fly buzz when I died; The stillness round my form Was like the stillness in the air Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry, And breaths were gathering sure For that last onset, when the king Be witnessed in his power. I willed my keepsakes, signed away What portion of me Could make assignable, – and then There interposed a fly, With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz, Between the light and me; And then the windows failed, and then I could not see to see. reminds the reader of the household discomforts and petty irritabilities in life that are irrelevant in death. A fascination with immortality is dominant in many of her poems about death. Her imagination thrust her beyond the living into the mysteries of death and immortality. She wanted to learn what lay beyond mortality before she experienced it. Through her poems, she was never able to appease her curiosity or answer her endless questions but only to speculate about them.
In The spirit lasts – but in what mode The Spirit lasts but in what mode Below, the Body speaks, But as the Spirit furnishes Apart, it never talks The Music in the Violin Does not emerge alone But Arm in Arm with Touch, yet Touch Alone is not a Tune The Spirit lurks within the Sea That makes the Water live, estranged What would the Either be? Does that know now or does it cease That which to this is done, Resuming at a mutual date With every future one? Instinct pursues the Adamant, Exacting the Reply Adversity if it may be, or Wild Prosperity The Rumor’s Gate was shut so tight Before my Mind was sown, Not even a Prognostic’s Push Could make a Dent thereon she analyzes the nature of man’s changed life after death. Dickinson looks at the question, could the soul exist without the body. She concludes that the body and the soul interact to form an identity, and matter is essential to spiritual expression. Beauty, truth and grace are too abstract for the imagination to comprehend for the speaker in the poem so she must direct her questions outside the living only to find “Adamant.” The poem This world is not conclusion This World is not Conclusion. A Species stands beyond – Invisible, as Music – But positive, as Sound – It beckons, and it baffles – Philosophy – don’t know – And through a Riddle, at the last – Sagacity, must go – To guess it, puzzles scholars – To gain it, Men have borne Contempt of Generations And Crucifixion, shown – Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies – Blushes, if any see- Plucks at a twig of Evidence – And asks a Vane, the way – Much Gesture, from the Pulpit – Strong Hallelujahs roll – Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul – addresses the question of, is immortality possible? Dickinson starts off assure of her belief in immortality but as the poem develops that assurance breaks down and is questioned. Human thought, intellect, and wisdom is not enough to support the hope of immortality.
All resources of the living world are unable to understand it. It demonstrates the drive of humans to the enigmas that immortality and death present and it represents how the question of immortality, “nibbles at the soul.” Dreaming allows Dickinson to have the speaker in the poem question and wonder about death without experiencing it. As though she was playing a role in a play Dickinson looks at death in a dream as a person who has been brought to the end of mortality and has crossed over to eternity in We dream – it is good we are dreaming.
We dream — it is good we are dreaming — It would hurt us — were we awake — But since it is playing — kill us, And we are playing — shriek — What harm? Men die — externally — It is a truth — of Blood — But we — are dying in Drama — And Drama — is never dead — Cautious — We jar each other — And either — open the eyes — Lest the Phantasm — prove the Mistake — And the livid Surprise Cool us to Shafts of Granite — With just an Age — and Name — And perhaps a phrase in Egyptian — It’s prudenter — to dream — The speaker is claiming to be playing a death role in a drama but she feels uneasy with the concept that the performance actually involves dying. The actors are all dying by some degree and making them actors in a play allows Dickinson to use her imagination to experience death. However, she is soon confronted with the idea of her own elimination from the living and that she must wake up from her dream. Representation using dreaming and sleep in Where bells no more affright the morn Where bells no more affright the morn — Where scrabble never comes — Where very nimble Gentlemen Are forced to keep their rooms — Where tired Children placid sleep Thro’ Centuries of noon This place is Bliss — this town is Heaven — Please, Pater, pretty soon! “Oh could we climb where Moses stood, And view the Landscape o’er” Not Father’s bells — nor Factories, Could scare us any more! suggests that fleeing from the world is often better than to remain and that the dead are often more tired of the living than the living of them. The speaker dreams of being in heaven, “where tired Children Sleep,” immune from her father’s bells and factories that represents the living world. Once more Dickinson is able to escape the world in a dream so that she may imagine herself away from the busy world content and blissful in heaven. The passing on from life to death in Emily Dickinson’s poetry often takes on the form of a journey. In most cases the narrator has been brought to the brink of death and is confronted by glimpses into the other side only revealed to the dead and only speculated about by the living.
She is often requesting entry to or understanding of the other side. Secrets about death are often used as an incentive for the narrator to come so close to death, and many times the speaker is unable to force itself to proceed into the other side because of its mysteriousness. The joy and emotion expressed in Tis so much joy! Tis so much Joy! T IS so much joy! ‘T is so much joy! If I should fail, what poverty! And yet, as poor as I Have ventured all upon a throw; Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so This side the victory! Life is but life, and death but death! Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath! And if. indeed, I fail, At least to know the worst is sweet. Defeat means nothing but defeat, No drearier can prevail! And if I gain, — oh, gun at sea, Oh, bells that in the steeples be, At first repeat it slow! For heaven is a different thing Conjectured. and waked sudden in, And might o’erwhelm me so! comes from the anticipation of the mystery and surprise of what lies after life. Given the risk the narrator decides to proceed at the possibility of victory and lured further by the secrets of death. The speaker in Just lost, when I was saved! Just lost, when I was saved! Just Felt the world go by! Just girt me for the onset with Eternity, When breath blew back, And on the other side I heard recede the disappointed tide! Therefore, as One returned, I feel, Odd secrets of the line to tell! Some sailor, skirting foreign shores- Some pale Teporter, from the awful doors Before the Seal! Next time, to stay! Next time, the things to see By Ear unheard, Unscrutinized by Eye- Next time, to tarry, While the Ages steal- Slow tramp the Centuries, And the Cycles wheel! has, “just felt the world go by!” as she is suddenly saved from death and her life flashes in front of her.
She wonders about her next and ultimately last encounter with death as she resigns to the cycles of life. Unsuccessfully the speaker has ventured on the sea of death looking for something but seeing nothing. She has been called back with, “Odd secrets of the line to tell!” as she has seen the mysteries of the afterlife. This poem is representing Dickinson’s eagerness for vision into the afterlife but like most of the journeys in her poetry, this one fails. Using the imagery of a city with gates blocking entry into it, representing the unknown mysteries of death, the speaker of Our journey had advanced Our journey had advanced — Our feet were almost come To that odd Fork in Being’s Road — Eternity — by Term — Our pace took sudden awe — Our feet — reluctant — led — Before — were Cities — but Between — The Forest of the Dead — Retreat — was out of Hope — Behind — a Sealed Route — Etermity’s White Flag — Before — And God — at every Gate — finds herself at the limit of life and before her unknown cities, she finds retreat impossible despite a hesitation to proceed. She is at the line between death and life represented when Dickinson writes, “Before – were cities – but Between – The Forest of the Dead.” As the speaker nears the end Eternity surrenders to her anxiousness as she sees, “Eternity’s White Flag.” The poem ends with victory as God welcomes her at the gate.
Although the speaker completes her journey in this poem, she fails to answer the secrets of death that Dickinson is seeking. Like so many other of her poems the journey fails to satisfy Dickinson’s curiosity. In many of her poems Emily Dickinson writes of a person on their deathbed as observers watch over her. A sense of uncertainty and uncontrollability about death exists and as the person dies, she leaves the question of the afterlife for the living to ponder as she does not leave any insight into the mysteries that lie before them. The observers remain jealous of the dying person, because they will finally see the answer to what lies in the afterlife.
In I’ve seen a dying eye I’VE seen a dying eye Run round and round a room In search of something, as it seemed, Then cloudier become; And then, obscure with fog, And then be soldered down, Without disclosing what it be, ‘T were blessed to have seen. the eye is looks into death trying to find something. We are not aware if it finds something hopeful or disturbing, as the vision becomes cloudy. There is no control over the clouds, just as Dickinson has no control over what happens as you die. Finally the eye becomes completely cloudy and it dies taking the answer to Dickinson’s plaguing question. The observer remains jealous of the dead because they now know what lies beyond mortality and they must remain ignorant to its mystery.
Again jealousy is exists over the dying person in the poem The last night that she lived. THE last night that she lived, It was a common night, Except the dying; this to us Made nature different. We noticed smallest things, — Things overlooked before, By this great light upon our minds Italicized, as ‘t were. That others could exist While she must finish quite, A jealousy for her arose So nearly infinite.
We waited while she passed; It was a narrow time, Too jostled were our souls to speak, At length the notice came. The survivors resent her continued existence in death as they struggle for preservation. She has consented to death and allowed herself to be taken away. What this all means is left for the attendants to wonder about, they are left withthe question about the implications of death for immortality. Although a need for other illuminations is evident, the “great light” intensifies recognition of life. The imagery of a person on their deathbed surrounded by mourners is used once again in I heard a fly buzz when I died. I heard a fly buzz when I died; The stillness round my form Was like the stillness in the air Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry, And breaths were gathering sure For that last onset, when the king Be witnessed in his power. I willed my keepsakes, signed away What portion of me Could make assignable, – and then There interposed a fly, With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz, Between the light and me; And then the windows failed, and then I could not see to see. The speaker anticipates dying so that she may obtain a vision that will a revelation so that she may conceive what is to come, but her hearing takes over and we don’t know of any vision.
She becomes emerged in the sound of the fly’s buzzing representing the hold the living world has on the dying person as it dominates its thoughts even as it welcomes death. It is important to take notice that the fly is the last thing she sees and hears in life because it obscures her consciousness so that she is unable to tell her story from beyond the grave. Dickinson is again unable to use her imagination to place herself outside the world of the living and finally comprehend death and immortality, and she is left on the brink of understanding. It is evident that throughout Emily Dickinson’s poetry she searched for the knowledge of what lies beyond life and in the mysteries of death and immortality. The conscious and imagination was used as a tool to discover whatever she might be able to find about life and death.
This unanswerable question fascinated Dickinson more than anything did and she embarked upon a journey to answer it through her poetry.BibliographynoneWord Count: 3970Words/ Pages : 3,986 / 24