Emily Dickinson

Topics: Death, Afterlife, Life Pages: 5 (1735 words) Published: August 16, 2013
Emily Dickinson and Immortality
Poet and Dickinson scholar Susan Howe says that “Dickinson’s work refuses to conform to literary tradition and that she is clearly among the most innovative precursors of modernist poetry and prose (Borus).” This statement proves that Emily Dickinson was one of the most unique writers during her time. Dickinson lived a quiet life in Massachusetts but her poetry didn’t reflect that. Instead, her poems reflected an active mind interested in her surroundings (Gailey). Dickinson wrote many poems on various topics but her most famous poems explore the theme of death. Through the use of personification and symbolism, the theme of eternal life after death shows the unique and individual structure of Dickinson’s poetry and is expressed in the poems “Because I could not stop for Death”, “I heard a fly buzz”, and “I died for beauty and it was scarce”. The theme of death is very important in Dickinson’s poetry because she examines it differently than other writers. Most people see death as something that is filled with pain and sorrow. On the other hand, Dickinson sees death as a peaceful journey towards the grave. She believes that there is an afterlife and predicts what afterlife is like. Dickinson does not use death as a negative thing rather she accepts the fact that eventually all of us die. She sees death as part of the cycle of life and isn’t scared to face it (Barnsley). In the poem “Because I could not stop for Death”, Dickinson examines death as a person that leads her to her grave. The speaker is very calm and relaxed as she describes her journey to her grave by explaining the view of children playing, grain harvesting, and the sun setting. The rise and set of the sun symbolizes the start and end of life (Evans). As the sun is setting, the speaker reaches her grave and the subject changes from “we” to “I” indicating that she is about to die. Furthermore, the poem reveals the speaker is a woman and it contradicts the fact that women have anxiety and fear towards death. Although death is usually seen as a morbid subject, the speaker is very humorous about dying. The use of personification exemplifies the humor of the poem. The speaker and death pass different people and places until they reach the gravestone. By giving death human characteristics and treating it like a person, Dickinson masters the device of personification in her poem. She portrays death as a person leading her to her grave and gives it human characteristics to make the poem more enjoyable to read. The use of personification not only makes the reader chuckle but also makes the reader believe that there is eternal life. The use of personification also adds suspense and ambiguity to what Dickinson is actually trying to say. Many critics have opposing views on the whether Dickinson means that death is leading her on a safe journey to her grave or that death is actually very cruel and is leading her to danger and immortality. The aforementioned point can be argued due to the fact the tone of the poem changes from humor to fear when the speaker reaches the gravestone. The speaker feels a chill indicating fear but some critics argue the speaker is only trying to imagine afterlife (Borus). The speaker believes that there is an eternal life and that death was just leading her to immortality. Besides that, it is questionable if death was trying to lure the speaker into a trap or guide the speaker to a safe haven. In the poem “I heard a Fly Buzz”, the speaker in the poem is talking after he already died. This exemplifies a reoccurring theme in Dickinson’s poetry, which is that death is an extension of life. The speaker describes a scene at a deathbed in which the speakers close family and friends surround him. At this grieving moment of family and friends, the noise of the fly seems to be distracting everyone and getting everyone’s’ attention. Dickinson uses an oxymoron by saying “For that last onset…” when last means ending and onset...

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Borus, Audrey. "I Heard a Fly Buzz." A Student 's Guide to Emily Dickinson. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2005. 55-58. Print.
Evans, Robert C. "Toward Eternity: The Final Journey in Emily Dickinson 's 'Because I could not stop for Death ' ." In Bloom, Harold, ed. Death and Dying, Bloom 's Literary Themes. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. Bloom 's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BLTDD003&SingleRecord=True
Gailey, Amanda. "Dickinson, Emily." In Barney, Brett, and Lisa Paddock, eds. Encyclopedia of American Literature: The Age of Romanticism and Realism, 1816–1895, vol. 2, Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Bloom 's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= EAmL0486&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 6, 2013).
Leiter, Sharon. " 'I heard a Fly buzz—when I died— '." Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom 's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CCED058&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 8, 2013).
Leiter, Sharon. " 'I died for Beauty—but was scarce '." Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom 's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CCED051&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 22, 2013).
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