Concept of Immortality in Emily Dickinson Poetry

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Introduction:

      Emily Dickinson is liberal in the matter of religious faiths and beliefs. She does not blindly approve of the Christian concept of immortality. Dickinson's attitude towards immortality is quite ambivalent. She vehemently rejects the Puritan concept immortality because it is based on imagination. Moreover, it is founded on dogmatic formulations and is devoid of any realistic basis.

Emily Dickinson's concept of immortality is undoubtedly ambivalent. She sometimes affirms and sometimes denies the very concept of immortality. She often ridicules the Christian concept of immortality and the continuity of life after death.
Emily Dickinson on Immortality

Ambivalent Attitude:

      Emily Dickinson's concept of immortality is undoubtedly ambivalent. She sometimes affirms and sometimes denies the very concept of immortality. She often ridicules the Christian concept of immortality and the continuity of life after death. She also challenges the traditional view of immortality because it is purely based on dogmatic formulations. Dickinson is a liberal religious thinker who favours a religion devoid of any ill-founded dogmatism.

Realistic Concept:

      Emily Dickinson's vision of immortality is anti-traditional and revolutionary. She is critical of the Christian view of immortality because it is based on imaginative formulations. She rejects this hollow view of immortality because it is fictitious in its nature and concept of death. Being illusory in its nature, it cannot be explained in realistic terms:

"Just lost, when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
And girt me for the onset with Eternity!
When breath blew back
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide."

Dickinson's Confession:

      Emily Dickinson has herself frankly confessed that the subject of immortality is beyond her limited power of comprehension. She has further admitted that immortality is a 'colossal subject' which she cannot understand and justify during her life time. She cannot blindly follow the traditional view of immortality which has no rational basis. She has also her reservation about the belief after-life which is claimed by its devoted admirers. She openly admits her inability to understand immortality the concept or subject of immortality:

Eternity's disclosure
To favourites a few
Of the colossal substance
Of immortality.

Concept of Heaven:

      Dickinson calls Heaven a 'house of supposition' which is founded on pure imagination. Being an imaginary creation, it cannot be concretely defined or located. Heaven is like 'acres of Perhaps' whose existence is quite hypothetical and illusory in its nature. Its existence remains purely at the perceptual level and is, therefore, quite doubtful. Emily Dickinson is more fascinated by the world of materialism than the world of romanticism or imagination because it is based on reality :

The 'Bird within the Hand'
Superior to the one
The 'Bush' may yield me
Or may not
Too late to choose again.

Mortality - Immortality Relationship:

      Emily Dickinson sometimes reposes her faith in immortality of life. It is in that heightened state of mind, she visualizes a close relationship between mortality and immortality. The world of materialism and the world of mysticism co-exist in poems which depicts her faith in immortality. The poem "These - Saw Visions" - records the spiritual journey of the soul after being released from the dead body. It is argued that the soul is all set to enter Heaven for its rousing reception:

These-adjust-that ran to meet us-
Pearl-for Stocking- Pearl for Shoe
Paradise-the only Palace
Fit for Her reception-now.

Incomprehensive Nature:

      Emily Dickinson's response to immortality is quite realistic and revolutionary. I extremely critical of the Christian view of immortality because of its imaginative formulations. She rejects this hypothetical concept of immortality, having no realistic basis. Dickinson claims that the subject of immortality is too complicated to be fully understood. Being a 'colossal subject', it cannot be satisfactorily explained. She has her reservations about the continuity of life after death. She has no hesitation in admitting that the subject of immortality is beyond her mental grasp:

Eternity's disclosure
To favourites-a few
Of the colossal substance
Of immortality.

Continuity of Life:

      For Dickinson, death is not the end of life because life is continued after man's exit from it. This shows that life is always in a state of flux and the end of one phase of life marks the beginning of the other phase of life. For Dickinson, death contains the very symptoms of immortality: the thought of death is embedded in the thought of immortality:

Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

Faith in Immortality:

      Emily Dickinson often confirms her faith in immortality in her poems. She visualizes a close relationship between death and immortality which is a testimony to the continuity of life. The existence of death implies the existence of immortality. The poem 'Because I could not stop for Death' deals with the existence of immortality and the continuity of life. Here the world of materialism is artistically juxtaposed with the world of spiritualism. The poem is a serious spiritual quest leading to eternity:

Since then-tis Centuries-and yet
Feels shorter than the Day.
I first surmised the Horses's Heads
Were toward Eternity.

Doubt about After Life:

      Emily Dickinson has her doubts about the concept of after-life also. The faith in after-life cannot be absolutely confirmed or denied by Dickinson. It is an attitude of ambivalence in her response to the very concept of after-death. She openly claims that the idea of life after death is beyond the reach of limited human imagination. Moreover, Eternity is a place where time and space desist any conclusive proof.

      Dickinson does not feel any regret for having no faith in immortality. Rather, she is happy for losing all faith in immortality. She is more than satisfied with her life on earth because it satisfies her creative urge: it is the real heavenly life:

I'm glad I don't believe it
For it would stop my breath-
And I'd like a little more
At such a curious Earth!

Personification of Immortality:

      Emily Dickinson often personifies immortality in her poems. It is presented as a person in the poem 'He lived the Life of Ambush'. Here immortality is presented as a soldier who is lying in ambush for taking a mortal life:

He lived the life of Ambush
And went the way of Dusk
And now against his subtle name
There stands in Asterisk
As confident of him as we
Impregnable we are-
The whole of immortality entrenched
With a star-

Death Leads to Immortality:

      Emily Dickinson also believes in the continuity of life. Death marks a graceful departure into the sublime water of immortality. It paves the way from the stresses and strains of the material life into the peace and happiness of after-life. The material life is not the end of life because there is a new life beyond. Therefore, the material life has no meaning in the absence of the spiritual life. For Dickinson, death is only a hyphen that links mortality with immortality. This confirms her faith in the existence of immortality.

No Divine Unity:

      Emily Dickinson believes that immortality cannot ensure divine unity. This means that soul cannot be identified with God. No human being can accurately predict when and how the unity between soul and God is going to take place. No spiritual unity is possible because of the soul's reluctance to surrender its own identity:

Going to Heaven!
I don't know when-
Pray do not ask me how!
Indeed I'm too astonished
To think of answering you!

God Concept:

      Emily Dickinson visualizes God as 'Father and' 'Saviour'. God is 'Absolute' as well as the 'Maker of life'. God is also the potential source of fear for the mankind. He punishes the defaulters without fail to curb the continuity of crimes in life.

Heaven Concept:

      Heaven stands for peace and happiness in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She firmly holds that heaven is inaccessible for all of us. She has herself admitted: Heaven- is what I cannot reach'. She resents against her entry into heaven by her detractors. She visualizes Heaven as a small 'Town - lit with a Ruby'. Dickinson regards the unfolding present as infinite.

Pain and Immortality:

      Emily Dickinson visualizes an intimate relationship between pain and immortality. For Dickinson, the impact of despair can lead to immortality. It is intensity of pain that brings soul closer to immortality. The relationship between pain and immortality is best revealed in danger / calamity:

The Soul's distinct connection
With immortality
Is best disclosed by Danger
Or quick Calamity-

Love and Immortality:

      Emily Dickinson finds love indispensable for the realization of immortality. Death cannot damage love because it becomes immortalized in the process of love-making. She is also doubtful about salvation after death because the impending fear of death leads to despair and cripples the will to act.

Conclusion:

      Emily Dickinson's attitude towards immortality is quite ambivalent. She has neither fully accepted nor fully refuted the concept of immortality. She is dead against the Christian concept of immortality. She criticizes the orthodox belief in immortality because it is based on unrealistic dogmatic formulations. Dickinson is equally apprehensive of the concept of after-life. She refuses to accept the Christian concept of Heaven. For her, Heaven is a 'house of supposition', having no realistic basis. Dickinson visualizes a close relationship between morality ( death) and immortality. She, sometimes, reposes her faith in the continuity of life. Death is only a transitional phase between mortality and immortality. The conflict between self and soul is all pervasive in Dickinson's poetry. Immortality is also personified in multiple forms in her poetic universe. Life is always in a state of flux and death only accelerates the processes of life. Dickinson also sees a relationship between pain and immortality.

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