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    Death and dickinson (3332 words) Essay

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    Death and dickinsonDeath and dickinsonDEATH AND DICKINSON An analysis of death and mortality in Emily Dickinsons poetry A Death blow is a Life blow to Some Who till they died, did not alive become Who had they lived, had died but when They died, Vitality begun. (816) – Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson led one of the most prosaic lives of any great poet. At a time when fellow poet Walt Whitman was ministering to the Civil War wounded and traveling across Americaa time when America itself was reeling in the chaos of war, the tragedy of the Lincoln assassination, and the turmoil of ReconstructionDickinson lived a relatively untroubled life in her fathers house in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she was born in 1830 and where she died in 1886. Dickinson is simply unlike any other poet; her compact, forceful language, characterized formally by long disruptive dashes, heavy iambic meters, and angular, imprecise rhymes, is one of the singular literary achievements of the nineteenth century.

    Her aphoristic style, whereby substantial meanings are compressed into very few words, can be daunting, but many of her best and most famous poems are comprehensible even on the first reading. During her lifetime, Dickinson published hardly any of her massive poetic output (fewer than ten of her nearly 1,800 poems) and was utterly unknown as a writer. After Dickinsons death, her sister discovered her notebooks and published the contents, thus, presenting America with a tremendous poetic legacy that appeared fully formed and without any warning. DEATH S A THEME Death was important to Emily Dickinson. Out of some one thousand and seven hundred poems, perhaps some “five to six hundred” are concerned with the theme of death; other estimates suggest that the figure may be nearer to a half.

    1 Among these are many of her best loved and critically acclaimed poems, for example, “Because I could not stop for Death. ” and I heard a fly buzz-when I died. The reason why the death theme was so important to Emily Dickinson remains a topic for criticism and debate. As do the influences that inform it: aspects of a general cultural inheritance, including the Bible, seventeenth-century American Puritanism and the English ‘metaphysical’ poets, the religious reformer Jonathan Edwards, and the ethical legacy of nineteenth-century reform sentiment with its links to Transcendentalism. Or we may look to more personal circumstances: a self-immurement, geographical, physical, existential, and strategic.

    The answer remains a matter of critical emphasis. Whatever the reasons, Emily Dickinson’s poems of death remain amongst the most powerful and wellknown of her work. A close reading of Dickinsons poems indicates that the best of her poems revolve round the theme of death. Being a mystic she believes in the deathlessness of death. In fact if death is to be assigned any position in her world then it will be second only to God.

    Death is a free agent; it is evergreen and all powerful. All the man-made creations perish with the passage of time. All the kingdoms fall except death. This undoubtedly confirms the immortality of death and reinforces its divine nature. The gradual encroachment of death upon living beings imposed the only philosophically meaningful relationship between man and nature, the soul and the body: Death is a Dialogue between The Spirit and the Dust.

    (976) This particular theme begins in her early poetry and persists in her later poetry. She does not pursue death with a single attitude; it varies in tone from elegiac despair or horror at bodily decay to exalted and confident belief. For her Death is an unsolvable mystery. As she says in one of her poems: Death leaves us homesick, who behind, Expect that it is gone Are ignorant of its concern As if it were not born. (935) I will examine the representation of death in her poetry, focusing upon “I heard a Fly buzzwhen I died,” where I will show how Dickinson investigates the physical process of dying and Because I could not stop for death –, where I will show how she personifies death and presents the process of dying as simply the realization that there is eternal life.

    Salamatullah Khan makes two divisions of death poems: where death is described by the external appearance and signs, and where she imagines death happening to her as an experience. It seems that she had studied death from every conceivable angle and expressed this wisdom in poems after poems. She presented death not as one who would cringe away from it in terror. She rather presented it with philosophical detachment and blatant realism. She accepts death as a physical fact, as a material truth.

    The most fascinating aspect of her poems on death is the presentation of death as a character. Salamatullah Khan remarks : From the earliest poems one notices the personifications of death, sometimes as a fairy or a ghost, till he develops into a solid state oriental potentate with the traditional splendor of his bearing, court and state gathering. John B. Pickard in the same tone observes: Throughout, death is seen from various perspectives: as a welcome relief from lifes tensions; as a force which heightens ones satisfaction with life; as a lover gently conveying one to hidden pleasures; as a cynical caller who poses beneath a cordial exterior; and finally as a solemn guide leading one to the threshold of immortality. I HEARD A FLY BUZZ – WHEN I DIED – (591) BY EMILY DICKINSON I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm – The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firm For that last Onset – when the King Be witnessed – in the Room – I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away What portion of me be Assignable – and then it was 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 – Emily Dickinson, I Heard a Fly buzzwhen I died from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H.

    Johnson. Copyright 1945, 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Reprinted with the permission of The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999) ?I heard a Fly buzz – when I died describes the deathbed experience.

    Like many of her poems, I heard a Fly buzz when I died has a speaker who communicates to the reader from beyond the grave. This poem, however, unlike Because I could not stop for Death, is focused not on what comes after deatheternity and the afterlifebut instead is focused on the actual rites of dying, of having ones last moments. Indeed, this poems only dealings with the question of afterlife and eternity come in the fact that the speaker is speaking from beyond the grave, and in order to speak must have some kind of existence after death. The clues that the death scene itself is the most important element of the poem is clear for several reasons.

    First, the poem is entirely located in a roomeven in its metaphors, the perspective does not leave the room, with the only exception being the imagined still air between the Heaves of Storm, which is a generic enough image not to pull the reader out of the bedroom. In addition, Dickinson repeats the phrase in the Room, in the first and second stanzas, making sure the reader has not wandered away from this setting. Finally, the flys importance also emphasizes this focus on the process of death. Were it the afterlife, faith, or the journey to eternity that proved most important, the fly would be a minor character; but it is, instead, the only significant character besides the speaker in the poem and the character that best represents the poems climactic moment. Its significance is so apparent that it comes between the speaker and the light” — this small, very earthly bug thus supplants spirituality and the afterlife.

    This bug and its consequences ultimately represents the speakers inability to hold on to spirituality, faith, or hope, in the face of death. The speaker is participating in a common deathbed ritual of the timepeople would, as the end came near, will away their possessions, followed by a kind of climax where they would announce the presence of God or of some spirit ready to take them to the next life, before they died, and all of this before an audience of their close friends and family. Dickinson creates a tense situation by contrasting the immobility of the dead with the mobility of the living and external growth of Nature. I heard a fly buzz when I diedcontrasts the expectations of death with its realistic occurrence.

    A small, trivial fly nullifies the traditional Christian belief that leads to eternal happiness. The pun in signed and Assignable ironically illustrates deaths supreme power, for only worthless documents, empty phrases, curious momentous, and a corrupting body can be left behind. The irony increases as the soul precisely arranges everything and waits confidently for death. Now the grand moment is at hand, but unfortunately a fly interrupts the ceremony:I heard a Fly buzz when I died The stillness in the Room Was like Stillness in the Air Between the Heaves of Storm (1-4) The speaker is lying on her death bed in a still room, surrounded by loved ones who have been weeping and who recognize that the moment of death is at hand: The Eyes around – had wrung them dryAnd Breaths were gathering firm For that last Onset (5-7) Death is personified as a male being; she and her loved ones are waiting for : when the King / Be witnessed – in the Room (5-6).

    The speaker is speaking only up to the moment of death, which is not depicted symbolically as a carriage ride to a graveyard, but as a conventional deathbed. The actual moment of death is described: one sense fails, sight, and one sense, hearing, briefly become more intense: and then it was There interposed a FlyWith Blue – uncertain – stumbling BuzzBetween the light – and meAnd then the Windows failed – and then I could not see to see – (11-16) At the moment of death, sound interposes itself between the light of life perceived by sight, and then sight fails completely. The moment of death is described as the intense sound of buzzing and the dying of the light. The ending is abrupt but the end punctuation is not a period or full stop, only a dash. Dickinsons speaker succeeds in willing away her objects, but she is distracted by the idea that not all of her is assignablepresumably, this unassignable part being her spirit or soul. Just as she has this thought, and thus is likely close to seeing the light and announcing that the King/Be witnessed in the Room , she is interrupted by the fly.

    This fly, which reminds us of the most physical aspects of death, the rotting and decomposition of the corpse, stands between the speaker and the spiritual light. While physicality distracts the speaker from a final revelation, however, the poem does not say that all hope should be lost, for the speakers very ability to write this poem means that there is an afterlife, after all. Mortality is definitely the big theme in “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died,” its whole reason for existing. Dickinson uses the poem to explore all kinds of things about death. She thinks about how it might feel, how it tends to happen, what we expect from it, etc.

    She looks at the idea from a bunch of different angles before, during, and after the moment of death and maybe tries to get us to think about it in new ways. The sense of time in I heard a Fly buzz – when I died is different than in Because I could not stop for Death. This poem describes a moment or two, an instant in time that is experienced and described intensely and then is over. It is a poem of a moment: the moment of death.

    The ending can be interpreted in two ways. It can be seen as not implying a full stop to life and, therefore, may suggest there is a continuation after the moment of death. But it can also be seen as an abrupt end. BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH BY EMILY DICKINSON 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 grew 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 but a mound. Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each Feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horses’ heads Were toward eternity. Because I could not stop for Death describes the process of dying right up to and past the moment of death, in the first person. This process is described symbolically. The speaker, walking along the road of life is picked up and given a carriage ride out of town to her destination, the graveyard and death.

    The speaker, looking back, says that she could not stop for Death / [so] He kindly stopped for her (1-2). As does “I heard a Fly buzz when I died,” this poem gains initial force by having its protagonist speak from beyond death. Here, however, dying has largely preceded the action, and its physical aspects are only hinted at. The first stanza presents an apparently cheerful view of a grim subject. Death is kindly.

    He comes in a vehicle connoting respect or courtship, and he is accompanied by immortality or at least its promise. The word “stop” can mean to stop by for a person, but it also can mean stopping one’s daily activities. With this pun in mind, death’s kindness may be seen as ironical, suggesting his grim determination to take the woman despite her occupation with life. Her being alone or almost alone with death helps characterize him as a suitor. Death knows no haste because he always has enough power and time.

    The speaker now acknowledges that she has put her labor and leisure aside; she has given up her claims on life and seems pleased with her exchange of life for death’s civility, a civility appropriate for a suitor but an ironic quality of a force that has no need for rudeness. The third stanza creates a sense of motion and of the separation between the living and the dead. Children go on with life’s conflicts and games, which are now irrelevant to the dead woman. The vitality of nature which is embodied in the grain and the sun is also irrelevant to her state; it makes a frightening contrast. However, in the fourth stanza, she becomes troubled by her separation from nature and by what seems to be a physical threat. She realizes that the sun is passing them rather than they the sun, suggesting both that she has lost the power of independent movement, and that time is leaving her behind.

    Her dress and her scarf are made of frail materials and the wet chill of evening, symbolizing the coldness of death, assaults her. Some critics believe that she wears the white robes of the bride of Christ and is headed towards a celestial marriage. In the fifth stanza, the body is deposited in the grave, whose representation as a swelling in the ground portends its sinking. The flatness of its roof and its low roof-supports reinforce the atmosphere of dissolution and may symbolize the swiftness with which the dead are forgotten. The last stanza implies that the carriage with driver and guest are still traveling. If it is centuries since the body was deposited, then the soul is moving on without the body.

    That first day felt longer than the succeeding centuries because during it, she experienced the shock of death. Even then, she knew that the destination was eternity, but the poem does not tell if that eternity is filled with anything more than the blankness into which her senses are dissolving. Since then ’tis Centuries and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses’ Heads Were toward Eternity (20-24) It has become difficult for the speaker to tell the difference between a century and a day. But she knows it has been Centuries since then, so the implication is that her consciousness has lived on in an eternal afterlife.

    That immorality is the goal is hinted at in the first stanza, where Immortality is the only other occupant of the carriage, yet it is only in the final stanza that we see that the speaker has obtained it. Time suddenly loses its meaning; hundreds of years feel no different than a day. Because time is gone, the speaker can still feel with relish that moment of realization, that death was not just death, but immortality, for she surmised the Horses Heads/Were toward Eternity . By ending with Eternity , the poem itself enacts this eternity, trailing out into the infinite. Mortality is probably the major theme in this poem.

    It’s all about the speaker’s attitude toward her death and what the actual day of her death was like. Dickinson paints a picture of the day that doesn’t seem too far from the ordinary. The speaker isn’t scared of death at all, and seems to accept it. On a closer observation, there are two opposite themes Mortality and Immortality occupy this poem. We find out that the memory of the speaker’s death day is being told centuries into the afterlife.

    So, in this poem, Dickinson explores the idea of perpetual life. In this poem there is life after death, which offers an explanation as to why the speaker’s so calm about everything. Death’s not the end, just one step closer to eternity. Under Emily Dickinsons brilliant composing techniques, this poem attempts to change peoples perspective of death.

    Not only is this poem different in mood from other poems based upon the same theme, it also presents a unique character of Death that is rarely found in other poems. People are afraid of death because they are afraid of what will be taken away from them once death comes. However, in Dickinsons point of view, once you face this great fear, you will receive great rewards eternity. BIBLIOGRAPHY ~ www. en.

    wikipedia. org ~ Peter Nesteruk , The many deaths of Emily Dickinson ~ The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. ~ Salamatullah Khan, Emily Dickinsons Poetry: The Flood subjects

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