Emily Dickenson and the Theme of Death

Essay by Luke PalmerHigh School, 10th gradeA+, January 1997

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Emily Dickenson, an unconventional 19th century poet, used death as the theme for many of her poems. Dickenson's poems offer a creative and refreshingly different perspective on death and its effects on others. In Dickenson's poems, death is often personified, and is also assigned to personalities far different from the traditional 'horror movie' roles. Dickenson also combines imaginative diction with vivid imagery to create astonishingly powerful poems.

In the 1862 poem, After Great pain, a formal feeling comes--, Emily Dickenson presents death from the perspective of the bereaved. This poem is written in the third person, and informs the reader as to the actions and thoughts of the mourners through an omniscient narration. In contrast, most of Dickenson's other death related poems show the reader the perspective of the dead. The vivid imagery in this poem functions to enhance the reader's perception of the poem. The following passage conveys a resplendent physical sense of coldness as someone is frozen to death:

'This is the Hour of Lead--

Remembered, if outlived,

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--

First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--'

The innovative diction in this passage creates an eerie atmosphere all by itself.

The effect of this passage is reminiscent of the famous macabre monologue at the end of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Dickenson also excellently portrays the restlessness of the mourners in this following passage:

'The Feet, mechanical, go round--

Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--'

Describing the feet as 'mechanical' shows the agitation and displacement of the mourners. Also, in the next line, 'Ought' most closely means 'Emptiness.' Dickenson artistically shows us how the mourners are dealing with their loss in this next passage:

'A Wooden way

Regardless grown,

A Quartz contentment, like a stone--'

To deal with their loss, the mourners have separated themselves from the rest...