At Least Half in Love With Debonair Death: Emily Dickinson's Attitude to Mortality

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Death is the predominant theme of quite a few poems by Emily Dickinson. Other poets too have written paeans to death and elegies on the deaths of dear ones, but Emily Dickinson's attitude to death appears truly unique because of the delicately balanced ambivalence of her feelings on the subject.

Introduction


The best way to gain insight into Dickinson's attitude to death appears to be to look closely at a few other poems by her on the subject. One such poem has her in the rather unusual role of an outside observer-"There's Been a Death." The opening stanza introduces the subject:
The poet may be a detached observer, but the keenness of the observation is remarkable. Not only does she note the 'numb look' which at least to her, is characteristic of a house in which a death has recently occurred, she also remarks on what other people might see and then forget:
The narrator notes, moreover, the minister's proprietorial approach, the entry of the milliner and of "the man/ Of the appalling trade" and the entire "dark parade" of "tassels and coaches". The poem ends with words that disavow any special insight on the part of the speaker and claim instead that this power of observation is second nature to country folk:
This fact is brought out quite easily in the most well-known of Dickinson's poems on death, "Because I Could not Stop for Death" (also known as "The Chariot"). In this poem the speaker (no doubt the poet herself) is a young lady of marriageable age and Death is a gentleman who has come to call on her, to take her out on a date. ...
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