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Emily Dickinson’s Interpretation of Death through Her Poetry

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Introduction

Emily Dickinson uses rhyme, tone, metaphors and imagery to communicate her concepts about the ambiguity of death through her famous poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz - When I died-” (Cameron 275). People often formulate mixed beliefs, thoughts and conceptions about death depending on the culture of their communities. The topic of this poem portrays the experience of anxiety, fear and uncertainty as to the things to expect after death. At some point in life, every person is interested in acquiring about death and dying after the death of a family member, a friend or a spouse. Death is a part of life that all living things must go through but the notion put on death makes the last moments of life hard for the departing souls including the people left behind. This poem draws the attention of a reader because it is not directed to the people in the poem but the audience reading it. This means that the poem gives the reader a glimpse of the different feelings people experience when they are dying and how uncertain they are about eternal life. Emily Dickinson uses a fly as a figure to represent dying and death. Flies are always associated with decaying matter but in deeper meaning, it represents the angel of death or the grim-ripper who comes to take the soul of the dying writer. The poem is from the perspective of a death poet and implying that everyone will end up in the same situation at the end of life.

Thesis statement: This poem will discuss the deeper meaning of the metaphors and words in Emily Dickinson’s poem, the modern concepts of death and the reality of death.

Interpretation of the Poem

In the poem, Emily Dickinson uses 16 lines which are divided into four stanzas to describe her final moments on the earth. The poet uses past tense in describing what the speaker experienced during the dying process. The death in this poem is painless but the notions placed on death and life after death make the process of dying more dreadful. The first line of the poem introduces the fly and death, both of which play principal role throughout the entire poem. “The Stillness in the Room-” (line 2) describes the description of the environment where the speaker is dying. The speaker is in a quiet somber setting dying on her deathbed (Cameron 275). In the next two lines, she compares the mood in her room as that of a storm that shakes the environment. The “heaves” used in the poem suggest that great turmoil will ensue the moment of dying and that more confusion will follow. The stillness in the room shows how the people are watching her during the dying moment is silent. “The eyes beside had wrung them dry-” (line 5) describes the mood of the people around her. They are exhausted and overwhelmed with grief from witnessing the speaker dies on her deathbed. In line 6, the watchers of the dying speaker are holding their breaths waiting for the moment of death. “For that Last Onset, when the King-” (line 7) suggests that the speaker and her watchers are preparing for death, which is the end of life (life) and according to Christianity, death signifies a new beginning in eternal life (Onset) (Ed. Stanford 118). The king refers to God, death or Christ who comes to take away the soul of death as indicated in line 8.

In the third stanza, the speaker accepts her situation on the reality of death and is ready to die. “I willed my Keepsakes, Signed away” (line 9) suggests that the speaker cuts all her attachments to her family and friends and draws to the climax of death. As the speaker is waiting for an extravagant entrance of God or Christ, a fly that could suggest Satan or death interrupts her line of thoughts or concepts on death.  In-depth meaning could suggest that the fly often associated with death and decay has presented itself to take the soul of the speaker to the underworld where it belongs or it could literally mean that an annoying fly interrupted her thoughts about the dying moment. The last stanza indicates the last moments of the speaker using the fly as a figure of death. “With Blue, uncertain stumbling Buzz” (line 13) suggests that the speaker is confused, uncertain and insecure about life after death because she confuses the colour of the fly (Ed. Stanford 118). The angel of death takes center stage of the last moment of dying by coming between life and death. Eyes are always considered the windows of the soul in human life, so when the speaker said that the windows failed, it implies that her eyes closed, shutting the light of the day and life out of her life.

Modern Concepts of Death in Relation to the Poem

Writers in the 19th century lived in the society where Christianity was the dominant religion. This contributes to the form of writing Emily Dickinson and other famous poets adopted when referring to death (Cameron 275). They all believed in life after death due to their faith in religion. The modern world has evolved and people are divided in terms of religion, race and culture. Christians have maintained their stiff belief in life after death where people are advised to be practice righteousness so that when they are in their deathbeds, God’s angels will take their souls and they will ascend to heaven. The sinners are sent to the underworld where Satan will subject them to eternal suffering. Scientists believe that the death of a person signifies the end of life both in physical and spiritual form. Most scientists and believers of science contribute to the enhancement of the science by donating their organs or the whole body after death. Egyptians and other African cultures believe in reincarnation where the body of death is restored in its usual form because a newborn in the community is believed to have risen form the dead in form of a new and young body of a child. The Indian community believes that cremation will make the dead occupy the seas and oceans after their ashes from the incinerators are spread across water bodies.

Reality of Death in Contemporary Society

Emily Dickinson interpreted the reality of death in every human being through most of her poems but the famous one is “I Heard a Fly Buzz - When I Died” as she addresses the audience from beyond the grave about her struggle with death (Cameron 275). The fear of the unknown is what makes death a dreadful experience for people who are dying and those witnessing the ordeal. Cessation of life whether it is painful or painless creates an illusion of heaven and hell. People who are about to die receive prayers from religious elders because they believe that the journey to the afterlife is filled with trials and tribulations.

Psychologists on the other hand have enjoyed a prosperous career in therapy and counseling people who are in grief because of the death of a loved one. People attend therapy to deal with impending death of a spouse in cases of terminal illness or fatal casualties in an accident, victims of violent crime or natural disasters. Some people want to know how to handle their own impending death in existence of long-term illnesses. Emily Dickinson shows how death brings grief in the community because people will not see, talk or touch the dead, which is a clear indication of what will happen to each human being alive (Cameron 275). The reality of death is now a common topic in the contemporary society. Causes of death include diseases, crimes, accidents, suicide and natural catastrophes that claim many lives in few hours. It is important for the reader to know what to expect when a member of the family, a friend or a spouse dies. The reaction to the loss of a loved one includes deep sorrow and denial but therapy before and after the loss of a loved one equips a person with self-supporting tools to handle any situation relating to death. Therapists advise their clients to view death as a rite of passage in all living things and to accept the reality of good and bad, happiness and sadness and finally life and death.

Therapy on reality of death allows a person to develop a high emotional intelligence that acts as a life-support for all problems both internal and external which cause emotional pain that might lead to depression and suicide (Rogers 59). Accepting the reality of death is living in harmony with the environment, because if human beings were given immortality, the whole universe would be in turmoil in maintaining order and justice, creating living space and fending for food and water. Many people do not understand the concept of death in human life but it is as important as life because for the population to balance in the ecosystem, people must be born and die concurrently. When people accept the reality of death, they continue living even after experiencing great loss and accept that both life and death create uncertainty (Rogers 70). People create wills that will benefit the people who are left behind and it has become a common case where parents and spouses sign wills. This is because people have accepted the reality of death and that it can happen at any moment in time, just as the speaker in Emily Dickinson’s poem did when she cut all her attachments from the world and allocated her possessions to her watchers.

Conclusion

Emily Dickinson used poems to interpret her view of death. In the poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died”, she shows the audience the mood of the people around her when she was dying, the ideas and thoughts about the uncertainty of death. The poem is relevant to every person in the contemporary society because it shows how life and death are still ambiguous. Death is an unpleasant fact that every person must pass undergo and the only way to embrace nature at its best is to accept that it will claim all human beings at different periods. This poem shows that both life and death are vague and to live happily, people must accept the uncertainty.

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