Treatment of Death by Emily Dickinson

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Madiha Jamal

Pankaj Bhattacharjee

Lecturer

Writing Literary Essays and Composition

Eng 437

091-114-020

11 Dec., 2011

Treatment of Death by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson wrote on extensive human problems. Probably, the withdrawal from society into isolation resulted in her deep meditation of life’s difficulties. A good number of her poetry is on mortality and immortality. Her views on death are very personal, rejuvenating and original, so much so that death seems to be something warm and welcoming. The obsession for death leads her to regard death as a kind of new life and the life on earth as a kind of death.

She believes that death is not something terrible, it is rather an escape from the shackles of this world, a relief from its tasks and tribulations. In “On this wondrous sea” she writes:

On this wondrous sea,

Sailing silently,

Knowest thou the shore

Ho! Pilot, ho!

Where no breakers roar,

When the storm is o’er? (1-6)

Here the pilot is God and storm symbolizes the troubles, trails and turmoil of human life. The traveller wants to go to that abode where there is no pain or trouble thus he is asking God if he knows of such a place. The pilot assures to take him to that land where many other sails are at rest with their anchors fast, that is, the land of eternity and the ultimate shore.

The poet likes the look of agony and suffering on the face of a dying person because it is real. According to her, the look of happiness and cheerfulness are mere pretension. Life is basically sad thus looks of anguish on the face of man are natural and true. The pain of death brings out the glaze in man’s eyes which cannot be unreal: “The Eyes glaze once—and that is Death— / Impossible to feign” (“I like”, 5-6).

The fascination for death invoked Emily to write about her imaginative, subjective experience of death. She constructs imaginatively and experiences the death to come. She is not terrified of death. It is a kind of aesthetic experience to her.

In “I felt a Funeral, In my Brain” there is no real or imaginary funeral of any person. It is about the experience of the sick mind obsessed with its approaching disintegration. According to Dickinson the funeral is the saddest experience in human life thus she finds in it the appropriate symbols to evoke the image of the decay of the mind. She expresses the dying of her rational power in the following lines:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading—treading—till it seemed

That sense was breaking through. (1-4)

The poet is trying to feel all the emotion associated with a funeral but the weight of it is so great that she begins to experience a break-up of her rational faculty.

As she continues visualizing the funeral procession she feels her mind going numb due to the unbearable oppression of sadness evoked by the beating of the drums: “A Service like a Drum— / Kept beating—beating till I thought / My Mind was going numb” (6-8). A dead body gets separated from the world after it is buried; similarly the poet is being alienated from the world of rational beings. Like the cracking of the box and the boots her mind has begun to crack and the sanity of her mind is being buried.

The speaker plunges into total lunacy, that is, her rational faculty dies when the plank (reason) is broken by the weight of the mourners, drum beats and boots of lead and creaking box: “And then a Plank in Reason, broke, / And I dropped down, and down / And hit a World, at every plunge” (17-19).

To Emily Dickinson death is the entrance to immortality. Rather than treating it as something ominous she regards it to be a pathway to peace and tranquillity. After death there is no sunset thus the long sleep of death brings in eternity. From this point there is no retreat because the route behind gets sealed. Death becomes the eternal partner.

In “Because I could...
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