Concept of Death in Emily Dickinson Poetry

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Introduction:

      Emily Dickinson is one of the leading exponents of death in the field of American poetry. Death is the central motivating force in Dickinson poetry. Dickinson's approach to death is quite realistic and free from any sentimentalism. She deals with the mystery of death in a detached manner in her poetic universe. Death has special fascination for a recluse like Emily Dickinson. She grapples with the problem of death from a realistic perspective to analyzes its real reality. Her vision of life is quite tragic and pessimistic.

Emily Dickinson's vision of life is quite tragic. It is tragic because it is filled with pains and sufferings. A note of melancholy runs throughout her death poems which intensifies its tragic intensity.
Concept of Death

Tragic Vision:

      Emily Dickinson's vision of life is quite tragic. It is tragic because it is filled with pains and sufferings. A note of melancholy runs throughout her death poems which intensifies its tragic intensity. The non-stop untimely loss of family members and friends have added to her tragic plight. Dickinson's mind is always haunted by the fear of death and this has immensely coloured her vision of life. Thus, Dickinson's faith in the sanctity of the material life has suffered a severe set-back.

      Dickinson's ill-health had always made her conscious about her impending death. She had also suffered at the hands of the hostility of nature. She was also deprived of the desired orthodox sustaining religious faith. A cosmic sense of loneliness pervades throughout her life.

Benefits of Death:

      Death is also a blessing in disguise in man's life. It bestows upon man a definite identity which is denied to him during his life. Death is a welcome relief from the stresses and strains of the material life. It also paves the way for the posible identification of man with God. Death ushers in an era of peace and security alter the termination of life on earth. A dead person cannot be harmed in any way

How good to be safe in tombs
Where nature's temper cannot reach
No vengeance ever come.

 

Adverse Factors:

      Dickinson's ill-health has made her life very unbearable. It is her physical frailty which forced her to abandon her studies. She had also suffered at the hands of the hostility of Nature. It was the Brights. Disease which prematurely terminated her life on earth. She was also deprived of an orthodox sustaining religious faith in life. She also suffered on account of her literary neglect at the hands of her hostile critics.

Sense of Loneliness:

      Emily Dickinson led a life of extreme loneliness throughout her literary career A cosmic sense of loneliness pervades throughout her poetic works. She consciously withdrew from the society of her times to realize her artistic goals. She never felt lonely and depressed in her self-imposed isolation. She showed no desire to interact with the males of the society of her times. She utilized her isolation for the realization of her ambitious artistic ends. She had found sufficient space and freedom to write in a focused manner in her privacy.

Partial Faith of Death:

      The traditional fear of death is to a considerable extent absent in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Knowing the reality of death, she gracefully and ungrudgingly has accepted the presence of death. She readily accepts death without any resentment or protest. Death holds no threat to a person like Dickinson who has witnessed its repeated recurrence in her domestic and family circles. She has often admitted that she is least afraid of death in her life. For Dickinson, the so-called fear of death is imaginative rather than realistic.

Positive Role of Death:

      Death, for Dickinson, is not always an instrument of destruction in her poems. It finally proves to be a blessing in disguise in man's life. It bestows upon man a definite identity which is denied to him during his life. Death is a welcome release from the stresses and strains of life. Death brings us closer to God and helps in the unification of man with Him. Death brings an era of safety after the end of the earthly life. A buried person is not at all affected by any kind of revenge or natural fury:

"How good to be safe in tombs
Where nature's temper cannot reach,
No vengeance ever comes.
Death is an undisturbed' long sleep' which finally paves the way for the new life."

Permanence of Death:

      Death is not subject to any decay or destruction. Dickinson believes in the deathlessness of death. Death is evergreen and is all-powerful. None is above death and man's destiny is closely linked with it. All the man-made creations perish with the passage of time. All the kingdoms fall but death. This undoubtedly confirms immortality of death and reinforces its divine nature.

No Sentimentalization of Death:

      Emily Dickinson's treatment of death is quite convincing and realistic. She never indulges in the false glorification or sentimentalization of death. She approaches death from a realistic angle without any distortion. She presents a factual account of a dead body or a living body at the moment of its becoming a corpse:

The eyes glaze once-and that is Death-
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

Fear of Death:

     The fear of death is not altogether absent in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson faces death without any resentment or protest. She considers death as the natural corollary of life. She has often admitted that she is least afraid of death in her life. She considers the traditional fear of death imaginary rather than realistic. For Dickinson, witnessing a dying person minimizes the fear of death. It equips an observer to confront death in a courageous manner. Therefore, death cannot terrify a person who constantly lives in its company:

'I' is so appalling-it exhilarates-
So over Horror, it half Captivates-
The Soul stares after it, secure-
A Sepulture, fears frost, nor more.

Impartiality of Death:

     Death is divine and enjoys perpetual existence. Unlike human beings, it is beyond any kind of decay or destruction. Death is all-powerful and nobody can Challenge its Will and Authority. Nobody is above death which governs man's lite on earth. All the kingdoms fall but death. This undoubtedly confirms the immortality of death and reinforces its divine origin. Death is known for its remarkable impartiality in human affairs. Death is a true democrat having an absolute faith in equality. All are equal in the eyes of Death and it does not distinguish people on the basis of caste, colour or creed. It draws no line of demarcation between high and low, white and black, gentleman and criminal

A Toad, can die of Light-
Death is the Common Right
A Toad and Men-
Earl and Midge
The privilege-
Why swagger, then ?

Death is All-Powerful:

      Death is all-powerful in the poetic universe of Emily Dickinson. Death controls human destiny in a masterly manner. It is unavoidable and none can escape from its clutches by any means. No struggle against death can succeed because it will be an exercise in futility. Therefore, the onset of death is unpredictable and it descends or human being without any prior warning;

To die -takes a little while-
They say it doesn't hurt-
It is only fainter-by degree
And then-it's out of sight.

      Emily Dickinson, thus, advises us to accept the Will and the Authority of Death without any protest or resentment. Man must gracefully bow before death to win her favour by the blind compliance of her Command.

Personification of Death:

      Death is not an abstraction but a living presence in Emily Dickinson's poetry Death appears in multiple manifestations in her death-poems. It is commonly presented as a 'fairy' or a ghost' to demonstrate her terrifying presence. It is visualized as a 'powerful potentate' with its traditional glory, learning and royal pomp and show. Death also acts the role of a cavalier suitor who woos his beloved by offering expensive gifts :

Death is the supple Suitor
That wins at last-
It is stealthy Wooing
Conducted first
By pallid innuendoes
And dim approach.

      Death is also presented as a 'postponement creature' who never fails to accomplish her divine mission. Emily Dickinson's richest personification of death are those which present him as a 'gentle caller'

Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.
And slowly drove - he knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility.

      For Dickinson, the dead persons are not dead but often address the speaker from the grave in her Gothic poems. They deal with the insurrection, not resurrection of the dead.

Symbols of Death:


      Emily Dickinson makes use of very suggestive symbols for the dramatization of death in her poems. They are : the 'beheaded flowers', the 'assined bird', the 'dying robin', the glaring eyes, etc. Death stands for winter light which means death. The white colour is symbolic of life-in - death. Nature is another manifestation of death which is instrumental of human destruction and miseries. The chief characteristics of death are its elusiveness, silence, quiet laughter, grace and lightness of movement.

Life - Death Relationship:

      Emily Dickinson visualizes an intimate relationship between life and death in her death-poems. Death is not a curse because it gives meaning to life. Life and death are not to be seen in isolation because they are linked by a door:

We never know we go when we are going-
We jest and shut the Door-
Fate following - behind us bolts us-
And we accost no more-
Death gives meaning to life.
Death gives meaning to life and confirms man's faith in mortality.

Liberation from Life:

      Death is a liberation from the symbolic social order. It is a welcome escape from the boundaries of the symbolic order. Man loses all his freedom and identity because he is forced to follow the set social code. He cannot afford to violate the symbolic order failing which he has to face social segregation or expulsion. Death ensures a person complete safeguard against the symbolic order whose life after death is no more dictated by the rules and regulations of the society. It is life of freedom-not captivity - that follows man's exit from life.

Concept of After Life:

      Emily Dickinson believes in the continuity of life. The poem' I Heard a Fly buzz-when I died 'shows the extension of life after death. Death marks an initiation into immortality. The dying person is no more bound by the social and religious obligations. He is no more conditioned by the symbolic order. It is death which gives him a new identity and sense of freedom.

Conclusion:

      Emily Dickinson is one of the leading poets of death in the field of American poetry. Death is the guiding spirit of Dickinson's poetry. Dickinson's approach to death is anti-romantic and therefore realistic. Death is all-powerful in the poetic universe of Dickinson. Death exercises total control over human life and none can defy its authority. Man must accept the Will and the Authority of death without fail Emily Dickinson presents an eye witness account of death in her poems. She has often anticipated her own death to know its real reality. Pains and sufferings have added to her tragic vision of life. Death is not only a source of repulsion but also a source of attraction in Dickinson's poetry. Death is a true democrat which treats everybody at par without any reservation. Death is presented in multiple disguises in Dickinson's poems to exhibit its realistic nature. Death gives meaning to life and affirms mortality. Finally, death is an escape from the symbolic order which crushes man's identity and self-esteem.

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