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Two Ideas Essay, Research Paper

Two Poems. Two Ideas. One Author

Two of Emily Dickinson’s poems, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”

and “I Heard A Fly Buzz-When I Died,” are both about one of life’s few

certainties: death. However, that is where the similarities end.

Although both poems were created less than a year apart by the same

poet, their ideas about what lies after death differ. In one, there

appears to be life after death, but in the other there is nothing. Only

a number of clues in each piece help us determine which poem believes in


In the piece, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” we are being told

the tale of a woman who is being taken away by Death. This is our first

indication that this poem believes in an afterlife. In most religions,

where there is a grim reaper like specter, this entity will deliver a

person’s soul to another place, usually a heaven or a hell.

In the fifth stanza, Death and the woman pause before “…a House that

seemed A Swelling of the Ground- The Roof was scarcely visible- The

Cornice in the Ground-” (913). Although the poem does not directly say

it, it is highly probable that this grave is the woman’s own. It is

also possible the woman’s body already rests beneath the soil in a

casket. If this is at all accurate, then her spirit or soul may be the

one who is looking at the “house.” Spirits and souls usually mean there

is an afterlife involved.

It isn’t until the sixth and final stanza where the audience obtains

conclusive evidence that “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” believes

in an afterlife. The woman recalls how it has been “…Centuries- and

yet feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses’ Heads were

toward Eternity-” (913). To the woman, it has been a few hundred years

since Death visited her, but to her, it has felt like less than 24

hours. Since the body cannot live on for hundreds of years, then it must

be none other then the soul who has come to the realization that so much

time has passed. The final part with the horses refers to the horse

drawn carriage the woman was riding in when she passed away. In those

two final lines, the horses seem to be leading her into Eternity,

possibly into an afterlife.

It is just the exact opposite is Dickinson’s other poem, “I Heard A

Fly Buzz-When I Died,” With this particular piece of literature, the

clues which point to the disbelief in an afterlife are fewer and not as

blatant, but are all still present. In this poem, a woman is lying in

bed with her family standing all around waiting for her eventual death.

While the family is waiting for her to pass on, she herself is waiting

for “…the King…” (914). No, we’re not talking about Elvis, but

instead this King is some sort of omnipotent being, a god. Later as the

woman dies, her eyes (or windows as they are referred to in the poem)

fail, then she “…could not see to see-” (914). When she says this,

what she seems to mean is she could not see any of the afterlife or

Kings she expected to be there. The woman’s soul drifted off into

nothingness with no afterlife to travel to.

To conclude, the beliefs of the two Dickinson poems in regards to life

after death differ significantly. In one, life does exist, in the other

it does not. To determine which poem believes in what, one must dig

through the clues in each.

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