Death In Emily Dickenson Essay, Research Paper
With the thought of death, many people become terrified as if it were some
creature lurking behind a door ready to capture them at any moment. Unlike many,
Emily Dickinson was infatuated with death and sought after it only to try and help
answer the many questions which she pondered so often. Her poetry best illustrates
the answers as to why she wrote about it constantly. She explains her reason for
writing poetry, ?I had a terror I could tell to none-and so I sing, as the Boy does by
the Burying Ground-because I am afraid.?(Johnson xxiii). There is no doubt that
Emily Dickinson is frightened of death and the unknown life after it. To release her
fears, she simply ?sings? her song in poetry. Still, little is known to why she truly
wrote of death and life after death; yet it is apparent that many have tried to explore the
subject at hand.
Growing up in the 1830?s, Emily Dickinson spent nearly her entire life in the
Amherst, Massachusetts, house were she composed many of the unforgettable poetry
she is famous for today. Dickinson, often labeled as ?the Virginal nun of Amherst?,
has been said to be ?anything but a total recluse? (Conarro 71). She spent her time
reading influential books and magazines such as the Springfield, Massachusetts
Republican, the Bible, George Eliot, Keats, Emerson, Sir Thomas Brown, and
especially Shakespeare. Emily Dickinson also spent numerous hours tending to her
garden and relishing the intimacy of long-distance relationships (Conarro 71-2). One
such relationship was a preacher named Wadsworth, whom she loved dearly.
Johnson points out the reason for her act of seclusion was that, ?Wadsworth?s
removal was so terrifying that she feared she might never be able to control her
emotions of her reason without his guidance? (Johnson xxii). Because Wadsworth
was her only mentor at the time, Dickinson feared she would have no one to turn to for
direction. To add to the upset of the death of a loved one, the pressures from her
father to do well in school plagued her so much that ?she found her only refuge in
seclusion? (Capps 15). Dressed in the purifying color of white, Dickinson turned to
life in the seclusion of her bedroom writing down her fears and pains of death and the
hope of life after death (Conarro 71). ?Withdrawing from traditional ways of
seeing, she separated her consciousness from almost all others and tried to understand
the phenomenon that is consciousness itself? (Bu*censored* 1).
There were many things which Emily Dickinson tried to understand, but she
was particularly interested in the mystery of death. It is evident in her poetry that, ?the
idea of death was for her the overwhelming, omnipresent emotional experience of her
life, and powerfully influenced her poetry, especially in its intensity and richness?
(Ferlazzo 64). It overtook her thoughts and became a obsession which she had to
satisfy; yet Dickinson would not confide in the church to help provide the ?food? she
hungered for. Ford explains that she believed ?that having felt no inner conversion,
she could not honestly acknowledge allegiance to a church?(18). He goes on to say
that, ?this refusal was very likely a source of self-doubt and torment, but a burden
perhaps made easier to bear through her poetry?(18). Eventhough Emily Dickinson
did not attend church, ?the heart of her preoccupation was her religious
motivation?(18). Her questions of immortality puzzled her and the worries of death
absorbed her thoughts, for she did not know whether to believe in the after-life or not.
David Rutledge of The Explicator writes that, ?in the presence of death, the whole
idea of faith has come to seem nothing more than a cruel hoax. The final sense is that
death is the punch line to a bad joke that has gone too far?(83). It seems as if
Dickinson?s fear may be that death may not be so benevolent after all. The only way
she could ever know the true answer would be if she were to die. Yet why would one
risk their life for the unknown? Ford continues by explaining that, ?for her, the idea of
immortality was not to be grasped as an abstraction, but by comparison to concrete
sensation? (14). Emily Dickinson wants to actually experience life after death and not
just hear about it. ?It may be that Man?s ability to foresee death is at the core of
religion in general; certainly Emily Dickinson saw the two as closely related?(Ford
19). Dickinson is so eager, yet hesitant at the same time, to see ?heaven? and the
wonderful life without sorrow or danger to come – if there is one.
Emily Dickinson?s feelings of pain and despair are revealed throughout her
poetry as a cry of misery and a way out of her grief. Keller explains that ?Dickinson
found…that certain language structures were for her a measure of security, that she was
vulnerable to criticism, that she was deliberately myopic about society?s forms, that she
went wild, that she found poetry fun and funny(7). Poetry was a friend to Emily
Dickinson whom she could express all of her inner thoughts and not be criticized.
Bloom adds a further insight to better understand the causes of her obsession for death:
The theme of extreme pain has made inevitable the conjecture that some
experience of unusual intensity was the source of it. She distinguishes
misery, throughout her poetry, as a hurt that can be relieved from
suffering….yet these milder aches and griefs did not challenge her
powers of analysis…. she simply separates the lesser pains that will heal
from the greater pains that will not and chooses the latter as her special
concern….her effect of reality is achieved not by an accent on pleasure
or pain but by her dramatic use of their interaction. (9-10)
It is apparent from Emily Dickinson?s poetry that she experienced much gloom and
misery throughout her life and had many confusing questions which were eager to be
answered. Her poetry was meant to be a way for her to express her feelings of grief
and pain so that she may find relief apart from despair.
?From the time when Emily Dickinson first began to write poetry until her last
fading pencil marks on tattered bits of paper, the mystery of death absorbed her?(Ford
18). At a casual glance through her poems and letters, she reveals numerous allusions
to such subjects as eternity, immortality, infinity, God, and death. She was deeply
concerned with religious values and eager to investigate the mystery of death and all of
its ambiguities(18). Eventhough Dickinson could not find all of the answers to her
questions on life and death as a whole, she found a way to block out the hurt and
loneliness she felt inside. Writing poetry became her happiness and rejuvenated her
spirit in a way that nothing else could. She could let go of all of her feelings inside
that were just bursting to be heard. Emily Dickinson had finally found security in the
midst of her fears-poetry!
Bloom, Herold. Emily Dickinson. New york, Chelsea House Publishesrs, 1985.
Budick, E. M. Emily Dickinson and the Life of the Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.
Capps, Jack L. Wmily Dickinson?s Reading, 1836-1886. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966.
Connarroe, Joel. Six American Poets. New York: Random House, 1991.
Ferlazza, Paul J. Critical Essays on Emily Dickinson. Boston: Massachusetts, G.K. Hall &
Ford, T.W. Heaven Beguiles the Tired. Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1968.
Lucas, D.D. Emily Dickinson and Riddle. Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1969.
Johnson, Thomas H. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1968.
Keller, Karl. The Only Kangoroo Among the Beauty. Maryland: The John?s Hopkins University Press, 1979.
Rutledge, David. ?Dickinson?s- I Know That He Exists? The Explicator winter 1994: 83- 84.