It is hard to lose a loved one. My father passed away 15 years ago and he died in front of me. What can a person do to cope? No one is prepared for an event as tragic as that. No amount of study and knowledge acquisition can steel the heart so as not to get hurt in times like that. The only thing one can do is to react in a positive way such as finding work to do around the house. Others have better ways of dealing with the pain, such as the poet who can write magnificent poems that do not only communicate how they feel but by writing them on paper they can even help others who may find themselves in the same predicament. This is the impact of the poem by Emily Dickinson.
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The first two lines alone can make the reader sit up and pay attention. It has to be said that the first line does not make any sense. Arguably the second line also does not have any kind of impact at all but when placed together and read like some form of a unit, then, the poem comes alive. How can death be associated with bustle? Activity is the antithesis of death, in death, there is no life and no movement.
The power of the two lines is rooted in how Dickinson forced the reader to focus on two undeniable realities after the death of a loved one. First, there is going to be a morning after and the morning after that. This means that life goes on; no matter what we feel inside we have to keep on moving and living. The second thing that Dickinson singled out was the presence of the house. If humans are like untamed animals and live in the wild, death can be easily dealt with considering that we can just leave and find another place where no evidence of love and life was lost. But the house that we live in, that our family has spent precious moments together it remains.
It is not only the structure of the house that creates a painful reminder of what has been irretrievably lost but also the rooms and the objects found there. It is hard to open the door to his bedroom the morning after death. The morning after, the realization usually does not sink in yet and at the back of your mind the person is still alive and you cannot wait for him to come down and have breakfast with you. However, he has left the house and he is not coming back. There is only one thing to do and it is to deal with the necessities of life for those who are left behind.
The third and fourth lines of the poem capture the feeling of moving through the day as if in a haze. Dickinson said that there is work to be done but all of it must be done in solemnity not because it is a rule but simply because the heart is so much in pain that one cannot afford to injure it more by laughing or talking nonsense.
Going to the next stanza of the poem the reader wonders if Dickinson can lead the reader to a higher emotional plane and she surprised us with these lines:
The sweeping up the heart
And putting love away
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The author was able to show the spiritual component of the work being done in the house, the morning after death and it is not simply to go through the motions of preparing the house for the wake of the funeral but also to sweep up the heart. And then Dickinson wrote the climax – the purpose of all the activities whether done through manual labor such as cleaning the house or through a mental process remembering the dear departed, all of it are a prelude to another spiritual process that will be performed unconsciously by the living and it is to put love away.
Why is there a need to put love away? There is no better thing to do than to reminisce on the good times and therefore it is unacceptable to simply discard love away. However, there is another way of looking at this line. It is possible that Dickinson meant something else, that we can do it after a period of mourning. From another perspective, this attitude simply means that those who are left behind adopt a more honest assessment of their lives. The loved one who passed away is gone forever, he or she will never come back and it would be better for the family to move on.
The author was more honest when she said that this love, “We shall not want to use again” conceding that we are only going to hurt ourselves if we continue to be in denial that this very special person in our lives, we will never see again. You can almost hear the author pleading when she said the phrase “we shall not want to” and yet at the same time you can feel your heartbreak because you do not know if this is possible or not. Another reason why this poem is so powerful is that it does not shout at us to do what we need to do; instead, it allows us to feel the pain while at the same time receiving the encouragement that it is time to move on.
When you thought that this poem could no longer soar any higher then it ends with a very beautiful and meaningful phrase: “…until eternity.” And when you hear that your spirit is lifted because someday, when the world ends and eternity sets in, that is the time that you can open what was closed and retrieve what has swept away – the love that you thought could never be used again, in eternity it has found a second life. On that day the dear departed we can see again face to face. One can just appreciate and applaud Dickinson for her genius in creating such a wonderful piece.
- Dickinson, Emily. The Bustle in a House. Web.
- Stanford, Judith. Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.