30 April 2012
An Unsure Death
Emily Dickinson became legendary for her preoccupation with death. All her poems contain stanzas focusing on loss or loneliness, but the most striking ones talk particularly about death, specifically her own death and her own afterlife (Bloom). Her fascination with the morose gives her poems a rare quality, and gives us insight into a mind people know very little about. What people do know is that Dickinson’s father left her a small amount of money when she was young (Reynolds). This allowed her to spend her time writing and lamenting, instead of seeking out a husband or a profession. Eventually, she limited her outside activities to going to church. In her early twenties, she began prayed and worshipped on her own. This final step to total seclusion clearly fueled her obsession with death, and with investigating the idea of an afterlife (Voices). Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I Could Not Stop for Death” and “I Heard a Fly Buzz- When I Died" both deal with one of life's few certainties, death. Dickinson's intense curiosity towards mortality was present in much of her work, and is her legacy as a poet. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Dickinson rides in a carriage with the personification of Death, showing the constant presence of death in her life. Because it has become so familiar, death is no longer a frightening presence, but a comforting companion. Despite this, Dickinson is still not above fear, showing that nothing is static and even the most resolute person is truly sure of anything. This point is further proven in “I Heard a Fly Buzz- When I Died,” where a fly disrupts the last moment of Dickinson’s life. The fly is a symbol of death, and of uncertainty, because though it represents something certain; her impending death as it flies around, unsure, with a “stumbling buzz.” This again illustrates the changing nature of life, and even death. She confirms all her previous statements, but in a more resolute and certain way. Even in such a bold statement as “The world is not conclusion,” Dickinson acknowledges her own fear of being mistaken. All three poems expound on Dickinson’s uncertain certainty that there is an afterlife, and that it will be a better place than her present world. In the poems “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” and “I Heard a Fly Buzz - When I Died” Dickinson shows her uncertainty about death and the world beyond. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Dickinson wavers between reality and illusion while commenting on her ideas about afterlife. Dickinson begins by telling the reader that she and Death are passengers in a carriage. This personification is meant to show the constant presence of the idea of death in Dickinson’s life. The first stanza states, Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality (Dickinson).
The irony in this statement further exemplifies her disillusioned feelings about death. Death “kindly” stopped for her, taking her from her otherwise comfortable life to the afterlife. This particular diction shows that death has stopped being a frightening, ominous presence, and has now become a comforting, constant presence. Dickinson further proves her points by glancing out the window at young children, growing grain, and a setting sun (Frank). As life goes on outside, she is trapped in the carriage; her seclusion with death, yet she is oddly calm. The scenes she sees out of her secluded window represent the stages of life. Children playing at recess represent the innocence of childhood, gazing grain represents maturing into adulthood, and the setting sun is the final step, death, where Dickinson believes she has ended up. In the next stanza, Dickinson is chilled by the presence of Death all around her.
Or rather - He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my...
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