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Emily Dickinson’s Voice of Misery

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Danny Cross


Professor McCamy


Emily Dickinson’s Voice of Misery

Through morbid discussion of death and immortality Emily Dickinson used poetry to gain a temporary escape from the bouts of depression in her own life, her grappling with mortality combined with her strive for happiness in her later stages life uncovered the renown poetic voice she was born. In her time the death rates of younger people were significantly higher than we will ever be able to relate to. This combined with her lack of a love life lead to her withdraw from society and her depression. Through this depression and isolation her poetic voice began to grow louder and louder. If she had lived a happier life her poetry would have never been discovered or even written for that matter. Without her suffering, her poetic voice would have never spoken so loudly. In the poems “Because I could not stop Death” and “I heard a fly buzz when I died” her poetic voice is heard and loudly understood.

I chose two of her more morbid poems to show what kind of life this artist lived. In the context of her own life one cannot imagine that she was happy with being so isolated and alone for the end of her life. The most tortured minds product the most beautiful artwork and I believe that in order for Dickinson to product such great wonders of poetry she must have been dealing with life’s vices in a serious manor. Their work becomes an outlet for their soul’s sorrow. The feelings of depression and anguish are projected onto paper. Many of her poems focused on death or at least involved it.

        Emily Dickinson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830 and died in the same place she was born in 1886. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for one year. Her poetry was tremendously affected by the few people that did have an impact on her life. One of the larger impacts in her work was made by a fellow named Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Their relationship was unclear and some believe it was a romantic relationship and other believe it was strictly plutonic. While many think she lived her entire life isolated she really wasn’t too antisocial until the 1860s when she began to live in near complete isolation for the exception of her family. In her town she was actually quite famous and she had published around 10 poems in her life time but none under her name. The bulk of her poetry was not discovered until after her death. Some factors contributing to her withdraw to from society was the death of her dog and her father (Forum, 2010).  Her poetry was influenced by how she was raised and her reading of the Book of Revelation (Poets, 2013).

In “Because I could not stop for Death” is known for being the prime example of her voice, she shows her detachment from life and how she was coping with the fear of death. The poem begins when the “king”, better known as death arrives. In the first stanza she focuses on how the room seemed to stand-still. By the second stanza she begins describing what onlookers felt as they watched death occur in front of their own eyes, “For the last Onset- when the King Be witnessed – in the Room” (Dickinson, I heard a Fly buzz (465), 1951). Some interpret that by the king she means death. In the third stanza she starts to lose her focus and attachment on worldly things and material possessions. Mentioning her will had been written and her worldly possessions would be divided up among her family and peers. This is also where the fly begins to intervene. The fly holds the majority of the meaning in this poem. The fly’s wings are described as blue perhaps referencing the mixture of colors upon deaths onset. It’s buzzing was uncertain and unsure, comparable to her state of mind post mortem. But the fly’s location seemed more important than every other imagery mentioned. The fly was between her and the metaphorical light, some think that the fly represents her worldly needs and obligations that are stopping her from moving onto. Others think that the fly represents the decomposition and consequences of death for her body (Poetry, 1992). After examining the poem and pondering the fly’s meaning I came to develop the opinion that the fly is a distraction from her decaying mental state, keeping her attention while her organs shut down and the light starts to fade. The fly could be her mind trying to ease its way into death without panic or distress. The two last lines discuss a window failing, these windows must be her eyes. Once vision is gone death has won, and she has failed in staying alive. Her voice could not be heard louder through this poem as she is struggling with death and I believe that it is an analogy for her struggle with depression. Depression being an ever looming constant in her life I can see it being comparable to death.

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