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‘Presentation of Death’ in Emily Dickinson’s Poems Essay

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Updated: Oct 13th, 2021

Introduction

Dickinson’s representation of death is imminent in all the three poems chosen for study, which succeed in making a person, feel a sense of grieving by the appropriate choice of vocabulary used in the poetry. The poem ‘I Heard a Fly Buzz- When I Died’, opens with the ever-admired opening line “I heard a fly buzz when I died”, which is a fantastic juxtaposition of two occurrences, the first being the incessant ‘buzz’ of the fly, so full of life, vigor, and energy, as opposed to the death of the woman, a phase so calm, so reposed and so very helpless.

The pain of death which the woman undergoes is not highlighted in the poem, on the contrary, it is the incessant buzz of the fly that is the center of attraction all throughout the poem, signifying man’s ignorance to the buzzing of the fly under normal circumstances, which amazingly becomes the center of attraction as soon as there is a shadow of death lingering in the life of humans. The poem also symbolizes the inhumanity of humans, who tend to ignore fellow beings when they are alive, and assemble close to the dying, when they are departing this world. This fact remains the underlying paradox throughout the poem. Death which is the end of the woman’s life receives greater attention than life, a phase symbolized by the constant buzz of the fly which is the central image of the poem, and stands out distinctly in the utterly silent room, with “stillness in the air”.

Main body

The heavy breathing of the woman is a direction towards death which is the “last onset”, the term being an oxymoron. The two terms, ‘last’ and ‘onset’ once again juxtapose each other, wherein ‘last’ denotes finality and an end, as opposed to ‘onset’ denoting a new beginning! This is also an allegory to the Christian belief that death is actually a new beginning of never-ending life, disclosing the true nature of God, who is the “king”, “Be witnessed – in the Room”. Thus, in this poem, death is not only an end but a relatively fresh commencement to a new life, after-death or after-life!

Death takes on a relatively new meaning in the poem ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ (712). Death has been personified by the poet as someone who “kindly stopped” and “knew no haste”. In the poem, death is depicted as a passage or transition from one phase of life to another, each phase dying out as the new one approaches – whether it be the liveliness of childhood or the “labor” and “leisure” of the poet. “The setting sun”, symbolizes the final stage of death in the life of the poet, towards “eternity”. Once again, there is an allegory to the Christian faith, that life is a short journey and the eternal end of humans is death, which is everlasting. Unlike the gruesome representation of death symbolized by the “buzz” of the fly in the previous poem, death has been depicted as a suitor, whose “civility” is apparent because “He kindly stopped” for the poet, being rather considerate and compromising.

The constant repetition of the word “passed” implies the slow and steady passage of life towards the inevitable death, which is the ultimate end (or beginning?) of life. “Death” is a looming shadow, which accompanies the poet in her passage through “school’ and childhood, “Fields of Gazing Grain” and when they “passed the Setting Sun”. In the very next line, the poet corrects herself by stating that it is “rather” the Sun that “passed us”, reflecting the eternity and constancy of the sun as opposed to the mortality of humans who have to ultimately die one day. Just like the setting sun brings about darkness and “chill’, so also death. The concluding verses are once again an allegory of the faith and belief of the Christian faith of the poet, in which she “surmised” that death actually is an advent “toward Eternity”. Life is something she has experienced, but death is something which she can only guess about.

My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun, is a poem in which Dickinson allegorizes the ‘Gun’, (Death) as a slave to God, cheerfully putting people to death according to his “Owner’s” (God’s) wishes.

The poem is reflective of the merciless killings and death caused by the gun when the “Doe” is being hunted, or people being killed. The Gun has been personified in the poem, a tool that Dickinson uses deftly time and again in her poetry. The Owner (God), of the gun (Death), should then be an immortal soul, since He has the power to put beings to Death, by ending their lives.

The gun has been personified in the poem, whose “Life had stood”, and was useless until it was taken by the “Owner”, after which the gun was carried everywhere by Him, to “hunt the Doe”, and to “speak for” its master.

Akin to the above poems, Dickinson affirms her belief in the Christian faith, where God is an eternal being and death is God’s slave-like the Gun is the slave of the “Owners”, and both put an end to the lives of humans. There is an underlying rage in the poem directed toward God, as being merciless and cruel to living beings. The rage is also toward the death of the female gender who is the “Doe’, constantly being hunted and used by the male gender, for their own selfish motifs.

The lines in the final stanza, “Though I than He — may longer live” emphasize the eternity of Death, as an ever-existing occurrence, a finality in the life of living beings, because of the

“…………..power to kill,

Without — the power to die”.

Conclusion

The ultimate power to take lives is entirely in the hands of the ‘Master’ of the gun, an allegory to God as the Supreme, eternal power, who has the sole ability to end lives, causing Death.

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1. IvyPanda. "‘Presentation of Death’ in Emily Dickinson’s Poems." October 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/presentation-of-death-in-emily-dickinsons-poems/.


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IvyPanda. "‘Presentation of Death’ in Emily Dickinson’s Poems." October 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/presentation-of-death-in-emily-dickinsons-poems/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "‘Presentation of Death’ in Emily Dickinson’s Poems." October 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/presentation-of-death-in-emily-dickinsons-poems/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '‘Presentation of Death’ in Emily Dickinson’s Poems'. 13 October.

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