It Feels a Shame to Be Alive (Dickinson) - Analysis Essay

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Discuss the poem It Feels a Shame to be Alive, by Emily Dickonson in conjuction with Jay Parini's statement “poetry gives voice to what is not usually said”

The American Civil War was one of the most violent eras of American history. It was during this period that the poems written by Emily Dickinson carry the most meaning. Jay Parini said, “poetry gives voice to what is not usually said”, It feels a shame to be alive, by Emily Dickinson is about death and it questions the bravery of the living. Despite death being a part of day-to-day life during a time of war, death was an unknown state of being and for this reason it scared people and the topic was avoided, as it still is today. This poem questions the bravery of those who live “When Men so brave – are dead”; this was the unmentionable subject during the American Civil War. In that time a man’s honor and bravery was more important than his life, and to question the honor and bravery of a man who survived something so brutal as the civil war was simply not done.

In stanza one, line 1 “Alive-” and line 4 “Dust-” establishes a stark contrast between life and death because each word is capitalized. Therefore, when seen on a page, readers are forced to confront the question, who deserves to live while others die? Through the use of these lines, Dickinson also seems to hint at the religious concept of life - from dust, to dust we shall return. “One envies the Distinguished Dust - / Permitted such a Head” gives the impression that one should be jealous of the dust, or the grave, as it is honored to have a person so brave that could die in battle buried in it. The capitalization of “Distinguished Dust” serves to emphasize this.

In the second stanza, the persona talks about a headstone “The Stone – that tells defending whom” a clear image of death. The persona also calls the dead a “Spartan”, thus likening the dead to a warrior that was historically renowned for their ferocity, bravery and valor. In the...
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