The Last Night That She Lived || Summary & Analysis

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The last Night that She lived

The last Night that She lived
It was a Common Night
Except the Dying-this to Us
Made Nature different

We noticed smallest things-
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our minds
Italicised-as 'twere.

As we went out and in
Between Her final Room
And Rooms where Those to be alive
Tomorrow were, a Blame
That Others could exist
While She must finish quite
A jealousy for Her arose
So nearly infinite-

We waited while She passed-
It was a narrow time-
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce
Consented, and was dead

An we-We placed the Hair-
And drew the Head erect
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate.

The last Night that She lived It was a Common Night Except the Dying-this to Us Made Nature different
The last Night that She lived

Summary:

      'The last Night that She lived' shows that death is not the end because life is continued after death. Death brings an end to the life of pains and losses. It further shows that death is a graceful departure into the sublime waters of immortality.

      The opening of the poem shows man's destiny is linked with death in life. The last night of death comes to all of us sooner or later in our lives. It enlightens us about the reality of death and life. Moreover, it bestows on us grace and salvation. Nature appears different to the onlookers because they have to confront nature's destructiveness and hostility. They visualize its very minutely because death makes the world very mysterious and precious.

      Stanzas III-V show the contrast between the situation and the mental condition the dying woman and those of the observers. The witnesses are in a state of panic and are seen moving in and out of the death room: They become resentful and ask why she is singled out to face this tragic situation. The jealousy for her is not an envy of her death; it is in fact a jealous defense of her basic right to live. As the fifth stanza ends, the tense moment of death approaches. The dying woman finally submits herself before the Authority of Death.

      Stanzas VI-VII describe her death by employing the suggestive image of a slender fragile reed gently bent by the winds. The reed shudders momentarily as it comes in touch with the cold water of eternity. She finally accepts the natural process. In the last stanza the onlookers reach the corpse to arrange it, with formal awe and controlled tenderness. It may be concluded that the dead person is luckier than the living because she now gets rid of all struggle for faith.

Interpretation and Critical Analysis:

      The poem shows that the traditional fear of death is illogical and unconvincing. The worldly life is only a part of life because it is followed by life in Heaven. Death is only a transitional phase which marks the end of the material life and the commencement of the spiritual life. Therefore, death is the connecting link between the material and the spiritual life.

      For Dickinson, the material life is filled with pains and losses. Moreover, Man finds himself almost suffocated in it. Death is an outlet song of life which promises a better life ahead. Death makes the world mysterious and mystical. The hour of death bestows on us grace and salvation. Nature remains indifferent at the time of man's departure from the scene of life.

      Man cannot postpone or avert death by any means or strategy. Death is unavoidable and man must submit himself before its Authority. Man must accept the natural process in which death plays a key role. It is finally observed that a dead person is luckier than the living because she now gets rid of all struggle and faith.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

The last night that she lived
It was a Common Night
Except the Dying this to Us
Made Nature different.

We noticed smallest things-
Things overlooked before
By this light upon our Minds
Italicized-as 'twere.

      It is perhaps Emily Dickinson's most powerful death poem. It shows that death is a part of life and man's fate is linked with it. The experience of death is relived in the opening section of the poem.

      The poetess recalls to her mind the circumstances leading to the death of the woman in the very start of the poem. The last night that she lived was not a particular but a common night. The death of the woman failed to disturb the normal rhythm of life. This commonplace experience of death proved to be very offensive o the observers. Nature seems different to the observers because they had to confront Nature's fury and indifference.

      It is this tragic sight that has awakened the observers to the reality of life. It has added to their sense of perception. Now they observe everything with heightened sensibility because death makes the world mysterious and precious. They begin to see even the petty smallest things which went unnoticed before. Everything now appears crystal clear in this state of heightened awareness.

She mentioned, and forgot
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce-
Consented, and was dead.

      Death is the end of the pains and sufferings of life. It leads to immortality which ushers in an era of eternal peace and salvation. Death brings us closer to the reality of life which makes us view it from a new perspective. It reminds the living beings that they will continue to face pains and sufferings till they depart from scene of life.

      This stanza shows that the dying woman will be forgotten with the passage of time. She will finally submit before the Will and the Authority of Death. She is not going to put up any resistance to postpone or delay the arrival of death in anyway. At the moment of death, the dying woman is willing to die - a sign of salvation and a contrast to the reluctance of the observers to let her die. The simile of a reed bending to water gives to the woman a fragile beauty and conveys her acceptance of a natural process.

And We-We placed the Hair-
And drew the Head erect
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate.

      Death is a part of life and the onward march of death is never terminated. The arrival of death is always resented by its observers. Nature remains indifferent to the plight of the mourners because they have to face Nature's destructiveness. Finally, the dying woman accepts her fate and submits herself before the Authority of Death.

      The last stanza of the poem deals with the final phase of the burial ceremony of the woman. The mourners approach the dead body to arrange it, with formal restraint awe and restrained tenderness. They finally heave a sigh of relief after having buried the dead body. Instead of going back to life as it was, or affirming their faith in the immortality of a Christian who was willing to die, they move into a time of leisure in which they strive to 'regulate' their beliefs and dispel their doubts. The dead woman is now relieved of all struggle for faith.

Annotations:

'The last night' - refers to the night in which the woman lost her life. 'Common Night' - ordinary night and there was nothing unusual about it. 'Made Nature different' - nature was not at all disturbed by the pass ing away of the woman. Nature progressed in a natural manner. 'Things overlooked' - things ignored by observers in the normal course of life. 'Forgot' - the dead woman will be forgotten with the passage of time. 'Struggled scarce' - the dying woman did not put up of any resistance to avoid death. She submitted to the Will and Authority of death. 'Reed' - kinds of coarse, firm-stemmed, jointed grasses growing in or near water. 'Consented' - agreed to let death descend on her. 'we' - the mourners carrying the dead body of the woman for the burial. 'Awful leisure' - formal restraint fear. The mourners felt a sigh of relief after having buried the woman. 'Belief' - faith in the mortality of life. 'Regulate' - to control.

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