Emily Dickinson and Death Essay

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Even a modest selection of Emily Dickinson's poems reveals that death is her principal subject; in fact, because the topic is related to many of her other concerns, it is difficult to say how many of her poems concentrate on death. But over half of them, at least partly, and about a third centrally, feature it. Most of these poems also touch on the subject of religion, although she did write about religion without mentioning death. Other nineteenth-century poets, Keats and Whitman are good examples, were also death-haunted, but few as much as Emily Dickinson. Life in a small New England town in Dickinson's time contained a high mortality rate for young people; as a result, there were frequent death-scenes in homes, and this factor contributed to her preoccupation with death, as well as her withdrawal from the world, her anguish over her lack of romantic love, and her doubts about fulfillment beyond the grave. Years ago, Emily Dickinson's interest in death was often criticized as being morbid, but in our time readers tend to be impressed by her sensitive and imaginative handling of this painful subject. Her poems centering on death and religion can be divided into four categories: those focusing on death as possible extinction, those dramatizing the question of whether the soul survives death, those asserting a firm faith in immortality, and those directly treating God's concern with people's lives and destinies. The very popular "I heard a Fly buzz — when I died" (465) is often seen as representative of Emily Dickinson's style and attitudes. The first line is as arresting an opening as one could imagine. By describing the moment of her death, the speaker lets us know that she has already died. In the first stanza, the death-room's stillness contrasts with a fly's buzz that the dying person hears, and the tension pervading the scene is likened to the pauses within a
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