Masterpiece Monday: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Image via Wikipedia

My homework assignment due in my Media Effects class tonight is about how media persuade public opinion. The author of the article I read theorized that when we are reminded of our own deaths, we are more likely to be persuaded by advertisements and purchase products.

This study on the awareness of our mortality reminded me of the literary queen of death, so to speak: Emily Dickinson. Over the course of her life in Massachusetts from 1830-1886, she wrote almost 1,800 poems–practically none of which we would have discovered had not her younger sister published them after Emily’s death.

Emily is an extremely enigmatic individual. Famous for being a recluse dressed in white, she was traumatized at an early age when those close to her passed away, and as time went on, she became increasingly isolated. By the 1860s, she rarely left her room, pouring her beautifully morbid thoughts into her poetry.

The major themes present in most of her work include the juxtaposition of mundane and lofty imagery and religious allegory. Her unusual line breaks and punctuation are well-known, as well as her tranquil tone.

Death is generally a highly emotional, often scary subject, but Emily manages to discuss it calmly–not unlike she was writing a letter to a friend. If you contrasted her writing with that of other Gothic Romanticists, like Poe or the Bronte sisters, her lack of melodrama and passion is quite unique.

I normally focus on novelists for Masterpiece Monday, but I don’t think anyone could deny that Emily’s work deserves to be called a masterpiece. Thus, I wanted to share my two favorite poems of hers today. She never titled her poems, so I have bolded the first lines of each. Feel free to share your thoughts on these pieces or any others by the great Ms. Dickinson!

I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air —
Between the Heaves of Storm —

The Eyes around — had wrung them dry —
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset — when the King
Be witnessed — in the Room —

I willed my Keepsakes — Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable — and then it was
There interposed a Fly —

With Blue — uncertain stumbling Buzz —
Between the light — and me —
And then the Windows failed — and then
I could not see to see—

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—

We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess—in the ring—
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed Us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—

Since then—’tis centuries— and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—

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