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Emily Dickinson?s Views on Death
Emily Dickinson?s views on death, as conveyed through her poetry, changed from poem to poem depending on her mood. Her writings also span over many years and one can see a progression in her thoughts on the subject of death as she matures as a person. Dickinson was not as interested in detail, but in the circumference of the idea. Many of her poems leave the reader lacking a definite answer to the issues of death brought up within the poems. As with most poetry, Dickinson often writes about subjects and activities that relate her thoughts in a roundabout way. For example, in her poem ?I Heard a Fly Buzz? a dead observer watches a fly buzzing around during the last few moments of his existence. Of course, she could really care less about talking about a fly. She is trying to share of views on death. Her writings usually supply, at least, a direction of her thoughts on this matter, but the reader must use intuition in order decipher the deeper meanings. While she expresses the thought that death is simply a separation from loved ones, whittled in with doubts about Christian views, Dickinson?s highly regarded poetry communicates to the readers that death is no big deal and almost welcomes bereavement, but, at times, one gathers a sense that death truly scares her to death?no pun intended.
It is believed that Emily suffered some sort of tragic loss around 1860, when she slowly became a recluse dressed in white. She saw fewer and fewer visitors until finally none. She seemed to have had very few intense relationships throughout her life, including a ?tutor,? a minister, and her father. These men came and went, by death or from moving away, but Emily took the losses very hard. These types of occurrences molded much of her thinking about life and death. Though she didn?t seem to get out of her ?comfort zone? and actually ?experience? life, some critics claim, Emily seemed to be a knowledgeable individual and ?her mind was well traveled.? The suffering she endured through the losses of these key characters in her life shaped what she thought about death. Death to her was merely a separation, which she had already experienced twice. In the first stanza of poem 49 she writes,
I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!
These thoughts blur the line between heaven and hell for Emily. To her heaven and hell are both separations from the life she knows. Surely her attachment to the familiar only intensified her fear of death in this aspect.
Dickinson lightly tosses around her doubts in the Christian beliefs. After high school, Emily attended a female seminary school for less than a year before dropping out because of homesickness despite being just a few miles away. She also felt uncomfortable because she refused to accept the popular doctrine of beliefs. Dickinson believed that death was no big deal. This is quite to the contrary of her fear of dying, but nevertheless is portrayed in several poems. The second stanza of poem 465 writes,
The Eyes around?had wrung them dry?
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset?where the King
Be witnessed?in the Room?
Everyone gathered in this poem, mourning the death of the persona, is expecting some spectacular arrival of Christ or God. While the persona is taking in the final reflections of its existence a fly appears. It buzzes around for a moment and then the persona loses the ability of sight. That?s all there is to the poem?no incredible climax. Jesus doesn?t fall from the heavens. The poem just ends. She believes that death is just as much a part of being as life is. When you die, you just die. Emily is also suggesting 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 this poem signifies that, even though we might have plans about the end, death is uncontrollable and unimaginable. In the fourth stanza of poem 258 she writes,
When it comes, the Landscape listens?
Shadows?hold their breath?
When it goes ?tis like the Distance
On the look of death?
This stanza again speaks of the incapability to understand death. In a letter Dickinson wrote about how there are certain depths in every consciousness about the adventure of death, despite being unable to ever comprehend the matter.
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