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Love and Death in Poetry by Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson is known as one of the most famous poets of the XIX century. One of the most important causes of her popularity is her manner of writing that was new for the period, during which she has been working, and the main themes of her literature. So, in spite of the fact that the main themes she described were death and some immoral points, she was appreciated by the public. Its interest to the person of a young poetess, who has published about ten works (Parker, 1) while her life was great because of her interesting, unknown manner of writing poems without a title but overfull with shot lines, non-traditional punctuation, and capitalization. Due to such features of the author’s style, her publishers were to change her poems a lot to make them appropriate for the age. The main themes of Dickinson’s poetry were nature, death, love, and Gospel (Oberhaus, 1996), however, irrespective of the theme, the main points making her poems especial were her manner of presentation and her inner state through which she could skillfully reproduce her own attitude to all these themes.

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Death, as one of the targets of Dickinson’s poetry, is a reflection of her “early and lifelong fascination” (Pollak 65) with diseases and death. Perhaps surprisingly for a New England spinster, her poems allude to by “crucifixion, drowning, hanging, suffocation, freezing, premature burial, shooting, stabbing and guillotine” (Pollak 65) are the main methods by means of which death appears in the poetess works. And her attitude to death can be well seen in her poem I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died. The first words along with the manner of presentation of the main idea of this poem are those as people could expect from usual poetry, however, then, follow phrases along with images turning it into something completely different. The flies are considered to be sinister creatures and the introduction of a fly into the poem influences impression greatly. A fly is known as an obtrusive insect, associated with dirt and illnesses. That is why a fly’s presence makes a poetic story horror. The author gives a hint that the end of life – death – is not the same as people may imagine, it is not full of pleasure and not everybody would have an opportunity to get to paradise. Death here is depicted as an earthy not divine event, being a result of diseases and tortures and being followed by grief and putrefaction. This poem proves Dickinson’s peculiarity in writing poems and giving her ideas on the subject. Thanking her fierce and unique presentation, her poetry still seems original and always new.

However, Dickinson’s attitude to death is not completely negative, moreover, she says I like a look of Agony. It means that she not only accepts death, but she also is not afraid of and even likes the moments of dying. It is not connected with her immorality, on the contrary, it confirms that the poetess is able to look at everything unusually. Agony seems to her as the only moment of truth without stimulation and sham, the moment, while it is impossible to feign. Maybe, she wants to allude to the fact that people, being afraid of death, are actually afraid of this moment of truth, while nothing can be hidden. That is why this moment is anguish and that is why agony may be loved. Appreciation of truth must lead to an appreciation of everything leading to it.

Being the central concepts of Dickinson’s poetry love and death are interlaced in the poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death. But here there is no love for agony, there is love in whole. Love and death here are shown as the only things marking the possibility of venturing beyond the limits of the self, crossing the threshold into the unknown, into otherness (Gray 241). Death is mentioned as a kind being that one more time shows the author’s attitude to this phenomenon. Hearse must not be in a hurry and because of its time is not important. Its mood is solemn and he looks like a royal. Passing various scenes of the routine life of the dead the hearse shows that there was o need to harry as everything has its time, no matter how rapid people themselves are. An earthen grave seemed to the dead like its new home with cornice and roof. The narrator’s story is finished by coming back from the dead to the death day. Death is shown in the poem as a way towards eternal rest. The narrator of the death story is not afraid of death and the only it is able to think over is that politeness, with which the hearse drives it to its grave. The last rows ask the reader to stop and recognize the shortness of life and take advantage of living as death never waits for life. However, there is no need to be afraid of death as it is inevitable.

The poems by Dickinson show her attitude to themes she describes with the help of words and punctuation. Dashes and capitalization create a work being “far more various in its styles and forms than is commonly supposed” (McNeil 2). The author emphasizes the most important words and phrases graphically, any reader could understand, which of them, he/she is to pay more attention to. She created her own style of writing reflecting completely on her special attitude to everyday points. Death is the moment of truth and it must be appreciated, however, there is no need to wait for it because no one can be sure that he will find him-/herself in heaven after death. All the themes, she uses as central, are well known, however, a new approach, new interpretation of these themes make any reader admire by author’s attitude such things as death. Death is described as the end of life and the grave is shown as a new home, however, in spite of all its negative sides, people are to understand that heaven maybe for them.


McNeil, Helen. Emily Dickinson. London: Virago Press, 1986.

Oberhaus, Dorothy Huff. Tender pioneer: Emily Dickinson’s Poems on the Life of Christ. Farr, 1996.

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Parker, Peter. “New Feet Within My Garden Go: Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium”, The Daily Telegraph, 2007.

Pollak, Vivian R. 1996. Thirst and Starvation in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. Farr, 1996.

Gray, Richard J. A history of American literature. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

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