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Emily Dickinson and Death

by Mirza Amin

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her father was a successful lawyer. She was educated at Amherst academy and Mount Holyoake, during her early years she was lively, witty and sociable but from her mid twenties she gradually withdrew into an inner world, eventually in her forties, refusing to leave her home and avoiding all contact with strangers, although she maintained intimate correspondences with people she never saw face to face. Her emotional life remains mysterious, despite much speculation about a possible disappointed love affair, for which one candidate is the Revd Charles Wadworth, with whom she corresponded and who twice visited her, another is Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican, to whom she sent and addressed many poems.

She wrote poetry from her girlhood, but only seven poems out of 2000 are known to have been published during her lifetime and those appeared anonymously and much edited. At first she was regarded as an eccentric minor poet, but after the publication of her other poems she is now considered a major writer of startling originality. Her work present recurrent themes - a mystic apprehension of natural world, a preoccupation with poetic vocation, fame, death, and - is expressed in a rhetoric and language of her own, cryptic, elliptical, and at times self - dramatizing, and hyperbolic.

In the poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death", comes as a cunning courtier to woo the poet. The poet busy with her earthly activities has not sought death. Rather, death has kindly stopped at her house to carry her away, as a lover comes her beloved away. Again, death at this time is not alone, but has immortality as its companion. This suggests that death is carrying the poet to her bridal room in heaven.

In the poem Dickinson shows her triumphs over death, as she is ready to accept it in a calm and quiet mood. She puts away "labour" and her "leisure too" because she is impressed by the civility of death. When the carriage begins its journey it has three characters - the poet, death, and immortality. They were gradually passing by the world of the livings symbolized by the school children playing in the ring. Then they leave behind the fields of the gazing grain and the setting sun. the feelings that they are gradually coming out of the sense of time and space is expressed in the following lines.

"We passed the setting sun" - In other words they have just now left behind them a life that is confined by time and space. In the conventional manner, death is associated with the setting of the sun and also with dampness and cold as the poet suddenly becomes aware of her dress. "For only gossamer, my gown--------". It is clear from the description that their journey is from life to death and eternity.

Finally, the poet reaches the house of death. This house is her grave - "A swelling of the ground". Since then, she is not conscious about the passage of time. Probably several centuries have passed by. But she feels that centuries are shorter than the day when she realized that the horses' head is pointing towards eternity. Dickinson imagines a post death situation. The image of the horses' head conveys the awesome power and majesty associated with death.

Thus, the poem finely expresses Dickinson's view about death. The poet indicates to the inevitability of death, minimizing, at the same time, its fearful aspect. Although there is an ironic touch in the narrative, we find the poets sincere belief in immortality and heaven. In fact, Dickinson expresses her attitude to death and immortality in a symbolic language.

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