It Was Not Death, For I Stood Up || Summary and Analysis

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It Was Not Death, For I Stood Up

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down-
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos-crawl-
Not Fire-for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool-

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine-

As if life ere seen shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some-

When everything that ticked-has stopped-
And Space stars all around-
Or Grisly frosts-first Autumn mons,
Repeal the Beating Ground-

But, most, like Chaos-Stopless coolp-
Without a Chance, or Spar
Or even a Report of Land-
To justify-espair.

It was not Death, for I stood up, And all the Dead, lie down- It was not Night, for all the Bells Put out their Tongues, for Noon.
It was not Death, for I stood up


Summary and Critical Analysis

      'It Was not Death, for I stood up' is one of the most difficult of Emily Dickinson's poems. It is one of her greatest lyrics. The poem is not limited to the expression of religious despair because there are no hopes, no expectations of change or remission, though with a feeling of despair could be justified. This poem is, in fact, grounded in a psychic disturbance.

Summary:

      The first two stanzas describe a horrible experience which is made up of neither death nor night, frost not fire, but shares the qualities of all of them. The speaker visualizes herself to dead bodies waiting to be buried. Stanza two dramatizes her confused and imbalanced responses to life.

      In the third stanza, she presents a figure having no identity and is forced to fit in a frame which is not of her dimensions. She seems to be the picture of darkness and death. Inner contradictions and reversals of perception stultify her spirit, constraint her will, and negate her sense of free choice in the fourth stanza.

      In the fifth stanza, she finds herself like a deserted and lifeless landscape. Stanza five, with its oppressive sense of isolation and death, acts as a coda to stanza sixth.

      In the last stanza, she compares herself to a lonely and freezing sea. She is self-lost and her condition is even worse than despair. She looks quite pessimistic and declares that hope and salvation are not meant for her. She now experiences total emptiness in her life. Here the poet comes closest to describing her mental condition. It is a state of disorder, formlessness, and infinite emptiness. The poem ends by depicting the soul as lost, as one beyond aid, beyond a realistic contact with its environment, beyond even despair.

Search for the Identity of 'It':

      The central interest in the poem is the search for the identity of 'It'. This search is mind-centred and is aimed at analyzing its confusion. Day and night, fire and ice seemed to be trapped within the poet's mind and condition its function. The poetess adopts her personal and not public point of view to resolve this dilemma.

Comparative Approach:

      The poetess has adopted a comparative approach for analyzing the true state of the mind under investigation. The resultant impression of the condition described by the poem is that it is one of estrangement from normality, of emptiness and utter desolation. Stanzas one and three invite comparisons of her condition with death and darkness. While she is alive and though it maybe noon, her emotional dejection and feeling of estrangement from life preclude her perception of what is positive, bright, and uplifting.

Lack of Clarity About the Subject:

      The subject of the poem is not clearly described in this poem. The poet is trying to describe an experience which she finds virtually indescribable. Although she can say what it is, she can say what it is not and what it is like. Her subject, though clearly of an abstract nature, is rendered in metaphors of location and bodily sensation.

Technique Employed:

      The underlying image of the poem is that of a church at midnight: all is still, the dead laid out in the chancel are the only human beings present. Yet on to that image are poled others which totally contradict its impact "there is action ('I stood up), sound (the Bells / Put out their Tongues"), frost, heat ("noon, 'siroccos', fire) shipwreck, space ('chaos'), etc. The overall effect is a complex one which draws the reader into the sensation of chaos. The rhythm also enhances the sensation of breathlessness evident from the poem.

Use of Analogies:

      The poet uses analogies to express her disturbed state of mind. It was as if her whole life were shaped like a piece of wood trapped and restricted into a shape which was not its own nature, and from which it could not escape. It was as if it was midnight all around her and all movement and sound had ceased, leaving only a sense of silence and yawning, empty space. It was a sensation like a sudden, sharp frost on burning ground. It was also a sensation of utter emptiness, of time and cold without end where no hope of rescue or reprieve, no illusion of safety could.

      Justify calling this state despair. It is void, empty and null. Dickinson has transferred the characteristics of death and dying to condition of emotional arrest in this poem. She concentrates her expressive gifts on the sensation of mental extremity, thereby distilling the anguish, the numbness and the horror.

Use of Images:

      Night stands for darkness and sleep : noon stands for the time of brightest light and greatest energy. Marble feet refer to cold feet. The 'standing figures' represent the funerals ones. The speaker's condition is like a deserted and sterile landscape.

      Dickinson is also using funeral images like a corpse being shaved and fitted in the coffin to show the arrival of death. She exhibits the soul's terrible desolation by comparing its state to midnight and to a staring space. The final stanza uses the image of a shipwreck to convey the chaos and hopelessness of despair.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

It was not Death, for I stood up
And all the Dead, lie down
It was night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon

lt was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Sirocose-crawl
Nor Fire - for just my Marble feel
Could keep a Chancel, cool-

      The first two stanzas describe a terrible experience which is neither of death or night, frost or fire, but a combination of all of them. The speaker visualizes the sight of the dead bodies waiting to be buried in the graveyard. She shows no signs of fear in this terrifying situation while confronting death. The traditional fear of night is not experienced by the speaker in this mourning atmosphere. The mourning noon church bells fail to horrify her.

      The speaker is not terrified by the frost but remains undaunted in its presence. Next, the speaker compares herself to corpses ready for the burial. Stanza II dramatizes her confused and imbalanced responses to life. The speaker's mind is filled with feverish nervousness and icy immobility. She feels an oppressive sensation of dry heat moving slowly over her skin. It was not a sensation of heat that horrifies her. Her cold feet alone can keep part of a church cold.

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine-

All my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breath without key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some.

      There is no one fixed source of fear but a combination of all the sources which horrifies her. The sensation of fear sums up all the qualities of death, night, frost and fire. All the dead bodies are systematically arranged for their burial. They appear to the observers as people who are seemingly alive but actually dead. They seem to her to be similar to her own. They give the illusion of being alive but lacking the vital energy which separates the living from the dead.

      The speaker describes a figure robbed of its individuality and is forced to fit a frame made to enclose something. The frame is very tight which has adversely affected his breathing, There is no key to open this box for free breathing. The framed person feels almost suffocated in this narrow enclosure. It is the midnight when impenetrable darkness prevails everywhere. Inner contradictions and reversals of perception and stultify her spirit, constraint her will, and negate her sense of free choice.

When everything ticked-has stopped-
And Space stares all around-
Or Grisly frosts-first autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground-

But, most, like Chao -Stopless-cool-
Without a Chance, or Spar-
Or even a Report of Land-
To justify-Despair.

      The speaker is hit by the fear of death, night, frost and fire. She begins to feel that her death is in sight. She feels trapped in a confined space of the coffin (frame) and unable to breathe properly. She further finds herself trapped in an impenetrable darkness.

      It was the time when every moving thing stopped all of a sudden. All the din and noise has come to an end. The region above the earth looks with a fixed gaze he ghostly frost appears everywhere on the earth. It is first mornings of the autumn that sets aside the throbbing of the earth. Presently, the atmosphere is neither hot nor cold but merely cool. There are no specific qualities to this sensation. It looks like a state of utter confusion and everything appears to be vague, uncertain and empty. There is no way to tide over this terrifying situation. Similarly, there is no cry which indicated that landfall has taken place. Therefore, the mood of despair can hardly be justified, The poem ends by showing the soul as lost, as one beyond aid, beyond the realistic contact with its environment, beyond, even, despair.

Annotations:

'It' - the condition the speaker plans to describe.
'For' - because.
'I stood up' - the speaker got up to convey that he is alive.
'Lie down' - the rigid dead body waiting to be buried. 'Night' - it shows the time of darkness and sleep. 'Bells' - refers to the church bells announcing the arrival of noon.
'Tongues' - the ringing of bells by means of metal pieces.
'Frost' - the condition of freezing.
'On my Flesh' - on his skin.
'Siroccos' - hot, dry, dusty wind which blows across the Mediterranean from North Africa.
'Fire' - sensation of heat.
'Just my Marble feet' - his cold feet alone.
'Chancel' - the eastern part of the nave of a church. 'Like them all' - Qualities related to death, night, frost and fire.
'Figures' - appearances of people. They are the corpses of the dead having no life.
'Set' - laid out.
'Burial' - disposal of the dead bodies.
'Shaven' - planed down.
'Frame' - case to enclose something.
'And could not breathe' - The air-tight case created the problem of breathing.
'Everything that clicked' - regulated moment of a clock or any other device.
'Space' - region above the earth.
'Grisly' - ghostly.
'Repeal' - set aside.
'Chaos' - disorderly situation.
'Spar' - apiece of wood from a boat. The image is of shipwreck where a drowning person cannot find even a piece of wood to keep him float.
'A report of land' - news of landfall.

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