Emily Dickinson Essay, Research Paper
With reference to at least three poems, discuss Emily Dickinson’s
attitudes towards mortality.
Emily Dickinson’s poems “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”,
“I Heard A Fly Buzz-When I Died”, and “I Felt A Funeral In
My Brain” all deal with one of life’s few certainties, death.
Dickinson’s intense curiosity towards mortality was present in
much of her work, and is her legacy as a poet.
“Because I could Not Stop for Death” is one of Emily Dickinson’s
most discussed and famous poems due to its ambiguous, and unique
view on the popular subject of death. Death in this poem is told
as a woman’s last trip, which is headed toward eternity. This poem
helps to characterize and bring death down to a more personal
level. Different from the more popular views of death being
brutal and cruel, Dickinson makes death seem passive and easy.
The theme of the poem being that death is natural and unstoppable
for everybody, but at the same time giving comfort that it is
not the end of a soul’s journey. The reader can recognize the
poem’s theme by analysing its voice, imagery, figures of speech,
form, diction and especially symbolism; all of which help the
reader to understand the poem’s meaning. The precise form that
Dickinson uses throughout the poem helps convey her message to
the reader. The poem is written in five quatrains. The way in
which each stanza is written i!
n a quatrain gives the poem unity and makes it easy to read. “Because I
Could Not Stop for Death” starts to gives the reader a feeling of forward
movement throughout the second and third quatrain. For example, in
line 5, Dickinson begins death’s journey with a slow, forward movement,
which can be seen as she writes, “We slowly drove-He knew no haste.”
The third quatrain seems to speed up as the trinity of death, immortality,
and the speaker pass the children playing, the fields of grain, and
the setting sun one after another. The poem seems to get faster as
life goes through its course. In lines 17 and 18, however, the poem
seems to slow down as Dickinson writes, “We paused before a House that
seemed / A Swelling of the Ground-.” The reader is given a feeling of
life slowly ending. Another way in which Dickinson uses the form of the
poem to convey a message to the reader occurs on line four as she writes,
“And Immortality.” The word “Immortality” is given a line by its! elf to
show its importance. Perhaps the most notable way in which Dickinson
uses form is when she ends the poem with a dash, which seems to indicate
that the poem is never ending, just as eternity is never ending.
“I heard a Fly buzz-when I died,” points to a disbelief in heaven or any
form of afterlife. In this poem, a woman is lying in bed with her family
and friends standing all around waiting for her to die. While the family
is waiting for her to pass on, she is waiting for “…the King…” This
symbolizes some sort of god that will take her away. As the woman dies,
her eyes, or windows as they are referred to in the poem, fail and
then she “…could not see to see-.” As she died she saw “the light”
but then her eyes, or windows, failed and she saw nothing. This is the
suggestion of there being no afterlife. The woman’s soul drifted off into
nothingness because there was no afterlife for it to travel to. This is
the complete opposite belief about afterlife in Dickinson’s other poem,
“Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, which indicated that life is a
never-ending journey. These two poems deal with similar topics however
they are entirely different in that one believes in lif! e after death
and the other does not.
Life, death, and reincarnation are portrayed in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I
Felt A Funeral In My Brain.” The use of words associated with death gives
the poem an ominous and dark persona. To add to this tone, important
words that are strong in meaning are capitalized. At the beginning of
this poem the feelings of grief and pain are evident. Throughout the
rest of the poem, there was a strong sense that the speaker needs to
make a choice between a world full of trouble and pain or a heaven
that brings solitude and peace. This is all part of a vicious cycle.
Sometimes when life doesn’t turn out for the best, you need to wait until
your cycle is up. This is reflected clearly at the end of the poem.
The speaker lives life, passes away, and is reborn again into this world
all throughout this poem’s entirety. The first two words of this poem
reveal strong feelings. The words “I felt” show that the speaker is
talking about themselves. In line 1, the words “I felt a funeral in!
my brain,” sparks thoughts of death. The word “funeral” combined with
the word “brain” can be simplified into the fact that death was inside
the speaker. “and mourners to and fro/kept treading-treading-till it
seemed/that sense was breaking through-”(2,3,4). Here the speaker is
bothered by their inner death that keeps mourning throughout their head.
The dashes between “treading-treading-,”allow a pause between the two
words, inducing a long, repetitive treading. This repetition causes
irritation. Finally, “sense was breaking through” (4). This simply means
that the constant repetition is now starting to make sense. A feeling
of relief has surfaced, but only for a short while. In the third stanza
voices start to take over by opening a box. Shown in lines9 through 11,
“and then I heard them lift a box/and creak across my soul/with those
same boots of lead.” This box is opened and all the problems and troubles
lingering inside are released upon the speaker like “boots of !
lead” weighing the speaker down. These problems build up and “the space
began to toll.” Portraying suicidal thoughts, the speaker can’t take
anymore and it’s all beginning “to toll,” meaning that it is coming close
to the end. This poem has a darker persona than the others, because
of the suicidal implications. The word “finished” is emphasized like
other words throughout the poem, but the use of “finished” at the end
of this poem fits accordingly. It also fits well at the end of this
poem because not only was the poem over but it also signifies the end
of life and the start of a new one. The lines separating “then” at the
very end make it seem as though the words are fading away as did the
thoughts of the speaker from the past. The speaker made it through the
cycle of life, living, dying and rebirth. Each stage was a hard endeavour,
with some, followed a period of relief, and others followed with a sense
of desperation, as if things will never get better. Heaven and Earth’!
s descriptions contrast each other so much, but no matter how peaceful
heaven seems, the gloomy tone still lurks throughout. The vicious cycle
of life will always continue, as was reflected in the poem.
Emily Dickinson’s views on death changed from poem to poem depending on
her mood. Her writings also spanned over many years and one can see
a progression in her thoughts on the subject of death as she matured
as a person. Dickinson was not as interested in detail, but rather the
circumference of the idea. In these three poems, Emily has also suggested
the uncertainty and uncontrollability of death. Everyone has these plans
of how things are supposed to go when we die. Or we just assume that we
will experience a peaceful extinguishment of life. The persona of these
poems signifies that, even though we might have plans about the end,
death is uncontrollable and unimaginable.
Death is the supreme unknown; Mankind naturally fears what is unknown.
Emily Dickinson is no different. Her works “Because I Could Not Stop
For Death”, “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died”, and “I Felt A Funeral In My
Brain” all explored the subject of death. She was naturally scared of the
thought of dying and explored many of the great questions in her poetry.
Is there a Heaven or an afterlife? If you kill yourself will you still
go to heaven? Is it your fate when you die? These are just some of the
questions that people have asked themselves, and because Emily Dickinson
is deceased, she now knows all the answers.