With the thought of death, many people become terrified as if it were some creature lurking behind a door ready to capture them at any moment. Unlike many, Emily Dickinson was infatuated with death and sought after it only to try and help answer the many questions which she pondered so often. Her poetry best illustrates the answers as to why she wrote about it constantly. She explains her reason for writing poetry, I had a terror I could tell to none-and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground-because I am afraid. (Johnson xxiii). There is no doubt that Emily Dickinson is frightened of death and the unknown life after it.
To release her fears, she simply sings her song in poetry. Still, little is known to why she truly wrote of death and life after death; yet it is apparent that many have tried to explore the subject at hand. Growing up in the 1830 s, Emily Dickinson spent nearly her entire life in the Amherst, Massachusetts, house were she composed many of the unforgettable poetry she is famous for today. Dickinson, often labeled as the Virginal nun of Amherst, has been said to be anything but a total recluse (Conarro 71). She spent her time reading influential books and magazines such as the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican, the Bible, George Eliot, Keats, Emerson, Sir Thomas Brown, and especially Shakespeare. Emily Dickinson also spent numerous hours tending to her garden and relishing the intimacy of long-distance relationships (Conarro 71-2).
One such relationship was a preacher named Wadsworth, whom she loved dearly. Johnson points out the reason for her act of seclusion was that, Wadsworth's removal was so terrifying that she feared she might never be able to control her emotions of her reason without his guidance (Johnson xxii). Because Wadsworth was her only mentor at the time, Dickinson feared she would have no one to turn to for direction. To add to the upset of the death of a loved one, the pressures from her father to do well in school plagued her so much that she found her only refuge in seclusion (Capps 15). Dressed in the purifying color of white, Dickinson turned to life in the seclusion of her bedroom writing down her fears and pains of death and the hope of life after death (Conarro 71). Withdrawing from traditional ways of seeing, she separated her consciousness from almost all others and tried to understand the phenomenon that is consciousness itself (Bu censored 1).
There were many things which Emily Dickinson tried to understand, but she was particularly interested in the mystery of death. It is evident in her poetry that, the idea of death was for her the overwhelming, omnipresent emotional experience of her life, and powerfully influenced her poetry, especially in its intensity and richness (Ferlazzo 64). It overtook her thoughts and became a obsession which she had to satisfy; yet Dickinson would not confide in the church to help provide the food she hungered for. Ford explains that she believed that having felt no inner conversion, she could not honestly acknowledge allegiance to a church (18).
He goes on to say that, this refusal was very likely a source of self-doubt and torment, but a burden perhaps made easier to bear through her poetry (18). Eventhough Emily Dickinson did not attend church, the heart of her preoccupation was her religious motivation (18). Her questions of immortality puzzled her and the worries of death absorbed her thoughts, for she did not know whether to believe in the after-life or not. David Rutledge of The Explicator writes that, in the presence of death, the whole idea of faith has come to seem nothing more than a cruel hoax. The final sense is that death is the punch line to a bad joke that has gone too far (83). It seems as if Dickinsons fear may be that death may not be so benevolent after all.
The only way she could ever know the true answer would be if she were to die. Yet why would one risk their life for the unknown Ford continues by explaining that, for her, the idea of immortality was not to be grasped as an abstraction, but by comparison to concrete sensation (14). Emily Dickinson wants to actually experience life after death and not just hear about it. It may be that Mans ability to foresee death is at the core of religion in general; certainly Emily Dickinson saw the two as closely related (Ford 19). Dickinson is so eager, yet hesitant at the same time, to see heaven and the wonderful life without sorrow or danger to come - if there is one. Emily Dickinsons feelings of pain and despair are revealed throughout her poetry as a cry of misery and a way out of her grief.
Keller explains that Dickinson found... that certain language structures were for her a measure of security, that she was vulnerable to criticism, that she was deliberately myopic about society's forms, that she went wild, that she found poetry fun and funny (7). Poetry was a friend to Emily Dickinson whom she could express all of her inner thoughts and not be criticized. Bloom adds a further insight to better understand the causes of her obsession for death: The theme of extreme pain has made inevitable the conjecture that some experience of unusual intensity was the source of it.
She distinguishes misery, throughout her poetry, as a hurt that can be relieved from suffering... yet these milder aches and griefs did not challenge her powers of analysis... she simply separates the lesser pains that will heal from the greater pains that will not and chooses the latter as her special concern... her effect of reality is achieved not by an accent on pleasure or pain but by her dramatic use of their interaction. (9-10) It is apparent from Emily Dickinsons poetry that she experienced much gloom and misery throughout her life and had many confusing questions which were eager to be answered. Her poetry was meant to be a way for her to express her feelings of grief and pain so that she may find relief apart from despair.
From the time when Emily Dickinson first began to write poetry until her last fading pencil marks on tattered bits of paper, the mystery of death absorbed her (Ford 18). At a casual glance through her poems and letters, she reveals numerous allusions to such subjects as eternity, immortality, infinity, God, and death. She was deeply concerned with religious values and eager to investigate the mystery of death and all of its ambiguities (18). Eventhough Dickinson could not find all of the answers to her questions on life and death as a whole, she found a way to block out the hurt and loneliness she felt inside. Writing poetry became her happiness and rejuvenated her spirit in a way that nothing else could.
She could let go of all of her feelings inside that were just bursting to be heard. Emily Dickinson had finally found security in the midst of her fears-poetry! Bloom, Herold. Emily Dickinson. New york, Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Buick, E.
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