ENGL 103A: American Literature 1789-1900 (Archived)
Dept of English, UC Santa Barbara (Summer 2011)
• CLOSE READINGS
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26 Comments on “CLOSE READINGS”
1. [pic]John Cooper says:
July 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm
Emily Dickenson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death” details the events the narrator experiences after dying. In the poem, the narrator is driven around in a horse-drawn carriage to several places, including a schoolyard, a field of wheat, and a house sunken in the ground. However, a deeper reading of the poem reveals the poet’s uncertainty of whether there is or is not an afterlife. The events she describes are of course fictional and unknowable, but the multiple changes in pacing of the poem, as well as the changing nature of the carriage (stationary and in motion), indicates the poet’s unwillingness to make a decision one way or another. At several times in the poem, Dickenson changes the pace of the reading. Upon the death of the narrator, even though she could not stop for Death, the stanza features end-stops after each line – the reader has to stop multiple times for Death. However, in the last stanza, she allows the reader to run through it very quickly, appropriate since the stanza details the quick pace of the centuries. This conflict is indicative of indecision. Death is traditionally described in two ways, depending on the religious affinity of the speaker – there is an afterlife or there is not one. Upon the time of writing this poem, Dickenson had just lost a valued friend, and was likely dealing with this conflict herself. At the start of the poem, she uses the word “Immortality,” which would likely imply that there is an afterlife, and the spirit of her friend is living on there. However, the fifth stanza of the poem describes a house buried in the ground, one that is certainly inaccessible to anyone trying to enter. In the next stanza, she uses “Eternity” instead of “Immortality.” Combined with the buried house, this word choice has a very different connotation. If the afterlife, whether it be Heaven or Hell, is thought to be that house, and Dickenson has been waiting outside for an eternity, would it not imply that no one can get in? That the soul has no place to go after dying? Of course, the fact that the poet can relate this information after being dead implies that spirits are capable of reporting back to the living in one way or another, giving them a sense of agency that would not have if they were just dead in the ground. The poet continues to feel temperature, as she notes in the fourth stanza. However, the poet seems to have no other human feelings aside from that. She has neither leisure nor labor, giving her a sense of indifference about the whole experience. It is hard to believe that, after being alive for some amount of years, at least long enough to have such a grasp over the English language, that anyone would have no feelings about being in the company of death one way or the other if they still managed to hold onto any shred of humanity. It is impossible to identify Dickenson’s feelings about death based on this poem, besides that she is still uncertain. Reply
2. [pic]John Yi says:
July 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm
20 Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman shares his view on the question concerning the present life of individuals in his poem part 20 of “Song of Myself”. His first stanza begins with the query pertaining to the mechanics of the human body, “Who goes there? … How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?” (389-390). Whitman ponders deeply on why food is a necessity for man to function. As the poem breaks into the...