Emily Dickinson - Poem by Adam Sobh
Part IV: Short Essay
Emily Dickinson had a very strong and sometimes depressing view of death. Many of her poems were written from a first person point of view describing people slowly going crazy. Often times, Dickinson would use funerals and/or death itself as metaphors to symbolize characters in her poems feeling as if parts of them (spiritually and physically) were slowly dying. For example, in the poem: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” Ms. Dickinson uses the concept of a funeral (lines 1-4) as a metaphor to describe her character slowly but surely losing her mind. After reading this, one could almost assume that Ms. Dickinson wrote the poem to help cope and come to grasps with the sad fact that sooner or later everybody dies. One thing that really stands out in this poem is when Ms. Dickinson speaks about “losing” her mind and becoming insane. The so called “funeral” taking place in her head is simply a figure of speech describing the gradual deterioration of her intellect.
Another belief that may have been held by Dickinson is that the holy customs and rites regarding funerals, is the closest that many individuals will ever come to understanding the extremely vague concept of death before they too “kick the bucket”. This belief can be found in Dickinson’s allegoric poem: “The Bustle in a House” (lines 1-4) . In this particular poem, Dickinson chooses her words carefully, making sure to use words with meanings that can be interpreted several different ways. For example, in the second line of “The Bustle in a house”, it is no happenstance that Dickinson uses the word “morning” which is a homograph for mourning, the traditional demonstration of anguish that Dickinson builds upon later in the poem. Lines 5-6 of “The Bustle in a House” use house cleaning as a figure of speech to describe the process of “moving on” after losing a loved one. Many people oftentimes use mundane tasks such as house keeping, to help distract them during times of hardship. When Dickinson writes “The sweeping up the heart, And putting love away” (lines 5-6) her meaning is somewhat unclear, although I think that when she says heart, she might be referring to the analogous word hearth. The hearth (fireplace) would need to be cleaned before relatives of the deceased arrived to pay their respects. In past times, most people were under the impression that after someone died, it was the responsibility of that person’s family to clean their home, so that others would come to visit. However, this was oftentimes easier said than done, since every house contains evidence of the existence of the departed. Another possible meaning one could derive from these two lines, is that the heart, shattered into fragments by grief, must be brushed off and placed in a secret place. Love similar to reminiscence, must be hidden in a secure location.
Having read another of Miss Dickinson’s poems (A Coffin-is a small Domain) , it occurred to me that there is a strong possibility that Dickinson was a firm believer in the existence of both Heaven and God. In lines 1-3 of “A Coffin-is a small Domain” Dickinson refers to a coffin as being small in stature, but yet still being large enough to contain what she calls “A Citizen of Paradise”. I myself interpreted this “Citizen of Paradise” to be symbolizing a deceased person currently residing in heaven. If you closely examine the seventh, eighth, and ninth lines of the poem, you see that Dickinson uses the word “he” twice and the word “him” once, I believe that when Dickinson says “he” she is referring to God. Another meaning that one can draw from the seventh and eighth lines of the poem, is that when she writes “And all the Seas He populates And Lands He looks upon” Dickinson is basically saying that everything on Earth including the earth its self were created by and therefore belong to no one but God.
Lines 11 and 12 of the poem have Dickinson mentioning a “Circumference without Relief—Or Estimate—or End—“. This “circumference” that Dickinson refers to, could have numerous meanings, although I took it to be a metaphor for the “circle of life” which is an endless and repeating process. The moral of the poem is that death is unavoidable and eventually everybody dies. While this may be a slightly depressing moral, all is not lost for Dickinson gives hope to her readers by hinting at the possibility of life after death, also known as heaven.
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