Q: Poetry texts are powerful indicators of society's values. Discuss with reference to two or more poems. Emily Dickinson's poetry powerfully indicates values of society of the time. It does this through its conciseness, its simplicity and its control. Indications of society's values are seen in many of Dickinson's poems, but they are especially noticeable in 'It was not Death', and 'Because I could not stop for Death'. In Dickinson's poem 'It was not Death', she demonstrates how restricting and stereotyping society can be on an individual, and how society values the conformity of the whole community, even though they may not want to.
In Dickinson's poem 'Because I could not stop for Death', she is questioning society's values on religion and everlasting life. Emily Dickinson's poems analyse her perception of the world and society, which is different to that of the commonly accepted, objective perception. The reader sees this perception in her poem 'It was not Death', where Emily appears to perceive a world full of confusion and chaos. She also observes that society tries to place people into stereotypes, and feels that she herself is restricted to one.
The Figures I have seen Set orderly, for Burial, Reminded me, of mine - Dickinson shows in these lines that her own life reflects that of a dead persons - it appears to be a living thing, but lacks something that makes it alive. It seems that life is a conventual pattern, and she is conformed in society just like the people in the coffins. She resents the way that in her society people were heavily placed into stereotypes. As if my life were shaven, And fitted to a frame These lines express Dickinson's thoughts about the restrictions of her life in her society. The fact that her life was 'shaven's seems to give the image of being cut down to size with a razor to fit her frame, and this is a very sharp image. It also seems to hold connotations to the times of torture and the methods they used, and she may be suggesting that the rest of society make her life torture.
It is as if her whole life has been shaped and trapped, which is not by its own nature, and from which it can not escape. Emily Dickinson also gives the impression of confusion and chaos through the verse techniques employed in her poem 'It was not Death'. There are a mixture of images which give the impression of confusion and chaos. In the poem there is action ('I stood up), sound ('Bells'), frost, heat ('Siroccos', 'Fire'), shipwreck ('Without a Chance, or Spar', 'Or even a Report of Land') and claustrophobia ('could not breathe without a key'). This mixture of images which often contradict each other give the feeling of chaos, which is symbolic itself. Chaos does not only mean 'a state of great disorder', but also refers to a biblical place where Satan ended up when God threw him out of heaven.
This brings about the possibility that Emily believes that the real world is in fact a hellish place, and the rest of society cannot see this because they are too absorbed in religion. The restriction or strangulation of her life by society can also be seen through the verse techniques of Emily Dickinson's 'It was not Death'. The rhythm of the quatrains enhances the sensation of breathlessness that occurs in the poem. There is the exclusion of connecting words in stanzas three to six, and this makes it seem that the words are tumbling over one another. Also, the repetition of 'And' in stanza four gives the feeling of breathlessness, as if Emily is trying to quickly relate her story without taking a breath. The increasing number of pauses throughout the poem, created with both commas and dashes adds to the breathlessness feeling of the poem.
This is because it creates sensations of increased inability to connect idea with idea, so as the poem progresses, the persona in the poem is becoming increasingly restricted by the implications placed on them by society. During Emily Dickinson's era, religion was a very big part of society. In 'Because I could not stop for Death', she appears to be rebelling against this. The journey after the persona's death is seen, but in Dickinson's view, there is an absence of such religious characters of Good Deeds, Sin, Grace and others. There is no judgement to determine whether she is going to Heaven or Hell, instead just the realisation that 'the Horses' Heads / Were toward Eternity'.
Eternity is a state of existence without beginning or end, and Dickinson is suggesting that this is what lays beyond death. This is shrivelling all hope for a wondrous afterlife in Heaven, which was valued by most of society at this time. Emily Dickinson demonstrates her rebellion against traditional thoughts of afterlife, and society's values through the form of her poem 'Because I could not stop for Death'. In the first stanza, Dickinson personifies Death and Immortality. Because I could not stop for Death - He kindly stopped for me - The Carriage held but just Ourselves - And Immortality. There is also irony seen in this stanza, as she says that she couldn't stop because she is so busy, so Death makes her stop.
In doing so, however, he kills her, so it is hardly a kind deed. This irony is used to show how strange and unpredictable life can be. In the first three stanzas of the poem, there is an iambic rhythm, which gives the impression of horses trotting as they draw the carriage. However, this rhythm changes in stanza four, indicating that the woman in the carriage is no longer moving. It indicates that death is not a progress into something else, it just simply stops, whilst you are still aware of it. Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet Feels shorter than the Day first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity - The lack of punctuation in the last stanza is to show breathlessness and panic as the woman realise's that she has come to a state of eternity, and also emphasizes that this is a long time - forever.
This is how Emily Dickinson shows her theory of eternity after death, which contradicts the values of the rest of society. Values of society of the time can be seen through Emily Dickinson's poetry. She powerfully shows society's values of conformity in her poem 'It was not Death', as well as how she and many others were expected to fit into stereotypes, even if it meant sacrificing their natural state. This is shown through the form of the poem and the poetic devices that are used. 'Because I could not stop for Death' powerfully shows some of society's values by contradicting them.
Emily Dickinson displays her own beliefs on what comes after death, and they are certainly not to do with an afterlife in Heaven, or other religious beliefs. These are examples of how Emily Dickinson's poems are powerful indicators of society's values.