Grave Danger: The Life Shadowed in Emily Dickinson’s Death Poems

Black-white_photograph_of_Emily_Dickinson

Poem 449:
“I died for Beauty—but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When one who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room—
 
He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty,” I replied—
“And I—for Truth—Themself are One—
We Brethren, are,” He said—
 
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night—
We talked between the Rooms—
Until the Moss had reached our lips—
And covered up—our names—“
 
 
Poem 465:
“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—
 Emily-dickinson-ca1850
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 portions 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—


Emily Dickinson’s perspectives on death offer perspectives on life: subtle features appearing in her poetry regarding death mirror and disclose subtle features of life. Transience of life, disenchantment, somberness, and death’s prerogative over life befall poems 449 and 465. Poem 449 portrays two individuals twined by mutual truth and thereafter forgotten in death; poem 465 renders an individual destitute, willing away all that life afforded. Both poems allude to a room and one or more active parties; the combination thereof create an atmosphere for Dickinson’s conclusion that the brevity of life and finality of death nullify the typical life ambitions of all parties involved.

Burges_bedroom,_Tower_HouseDickinson ascribes stillness to the air and quaintness to the light of the room in poem 465; a fly amplifies the stillness with its buzz and the quaintness with its interposing her vision of another element, light. These features meet the company of solid breath and the King as witness as she signs away “what portions of [her] be assignable.” (10, 11) All these elements joined demonstrate a picturesque, somber willing away of her assets as she lies on her deathbed. The active parties mentioned, the King and fly, amplify her end and destitution. She is dying, and they are not; her “keepsakes” (9) now escape her possession as though her possession of them is validated only by her ability to give them away.

Dickinson reposes into a picture of the hereafter and yields to the confinement of a new room in poem 449. This room can be assumed to share and emphasize the qualities of the former room: still, somber, and quaint. She illustrates two personalities, lain in adjoining rooms, who discuss the portions of themselves which are not “assignable.” Their dialogue reveals that one died for beauty and the other died for truth, which might as well be the same beneath the veil of death. The latter personality affirmed each life dedication and deduced “themself are one.” (7) The mutual truth between both parties creates the bond of two kinsmen; these ambitions are loftier than the keepsakes willed away in poem 465. The two personalities derive comfort from each other and their corresponding, worthy goals until moss smothers their solace.

The transience of life appears in both poems as death having prerogative over life. Poem 449 explicates that both the kinsmen were enclosed by moss; even further than the body, the moss crept over their corresponding grave-markers, their “names.” (11) Poem 465 exhibits a helplessness affixed to the dying: the keepsakes acquired in life and the King, who lent his notary publicity, could do nothing to sustain her life. Death for Dickinson, then, removes the belongings and remembrance of the living. This philosophy ought to disenchant those who remain living and provoke a somber approach to life. Tempered inspiration, perhaps, is superior to unbridled aspiration.

Death forgets the dead, and the living forget those who died; the grave silences all lofty and/or trivial ambitions voiced by life. Dickinson’s picturesque presentation of the deathbed and the sleep that follows bolsters transience of life, disenchantment, somberness, and death’s prerogative over life. These ideologies ought not to suppress the human spirit, rather, they should disillusion the human spirit from addendums to life, distractions. For example, a simple quip, you are what you love, not who loves you”, dispels amendments which addend the identity of several souls: many people identify themselves via the identity of a significant other; certain people, perhaps, identify themselves solely by a political or socioeconomic class; and others, even identify themselves in terms purely based out of religious conviction.

These are but a few sources anyone can draw from the identity pool: ethnicity, sociocultural stigma, marital role, career choice, technological devices (phones, gadgets, computers, gaming systems, etc.), internet (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, etc.), and so on and so forth. None of these even slightly relate to who a person is. If all of the aforementioned identity-bubbles were painted grey and popped, the residue from within represents identity.

Furthermore, the initial clause, “You are what you love…”, is inspirational; the latter clause, “…not who loves you.”, is liberating. Most people find peace in something, even if that something is nothing in particular. Most times, people are inhibited from doing that something by: physical barriers, metaphysical barriers (e.g., others’ expectations; self-imposed expectations), depression, demotivation, a career path or lack thereof, and the list goes on. That anyone’s peace-bringing something, or nothing in particular, would be suppressed by external or internal forces is grievous.

If one lives without allotting some or much of his time for the something that makes him, him, then his life lived without his something is devoid of truth. If a lie is presupposed not to exist, then the pseudo-identity may also be presupposed not to exist. If one fails to do what makes him, him; he, though existing, fails to live. Ignorance of oneself is ignorance of life, a special form of death. The initial clause, “You are what you love…”, represents one’s something; the latter clause, “…not who loves you.“, represents one’s something unshackled.4572553896_72f657e975_z

Dickinson’s image of death resurrects ignorance of life by mirroring all that one is not, which reveals all that one is: alive. The subtle features in Dickinson’s poems are not grappled only to death, but also woven to life; you cannot have one without the other. Life, at times, requires death to disenchant the living. For example, all forms of socioeconomic class and ethnic group flock to the city of Nashville, which begs the question: “to what end was such a city conjured?” On an individual basis, a man understands that he is finite and his efforts will fade away; on a universal basis, mankind lives and acts as though it is immortal and its institutions will undoubtedly withstand the trial of ages.

Light’s mere existence, whether interposed or not interposed by a fly, is breathtaking, let alone a metropolitan night. Mankind raises constructions to an enamoring magnitude; when considering all that has been, is being, or will be built up will be torn down, the mind defaults to Dickinson’s thoughts of still, somber existence. Though a man be frozen within his own time, he is warm just enough to move. Any success or lack thereof he may consider himself to have accomplished has an end: it is simply and truthfully the nature of finite things to remain as such. He may work to live or live to work; death closes both cases, and his cityscapes stand tall as ephemeral empires.

forest-66832_150Dickinson portrayed life as transient and death as permanent; life is a memory that death forgets. No preeminent, lasting purpose for life augments poems 449 and 465, though, perhaps such a lack of purpose alludes to her simpler purpose. Death is still, and life is still. Death is somber, and life is somber. Death is quaint, and life is quaint. Death subdues life; however, a still, somber, and quaint life for Dickinson, perhaps, allowed her to recognize herself, her life, before death stopped for her. If ignorance of oneself is ignorance of life, then the disenchanting presence of death is itself enchanting: death reminds us that we are alive.

Sudden immersion of oneself in a foreign culture produces culture-shock in response to the unfamiliar customs and cultural stigma without having had due time to acclimate. In the same sense, thoughts of death, like a culture, produce shock for the living in response to the foreign manner of thinking. Dickinson’s contemplations regarding death shine a rather dim light on life, if indeed, the brevity of life and finality of death annul mainstream initiatives for living. If, however, mainstream initiatives occur without consideration to life and death as a whole, then they may very well be worth dissolving and rebuilt.

In lieu of death, life becomes perceptible: if one is busy, he is not still; if one is conventional, he is not quaint; if one is both busy and conventional, he is likely living only in his mind. The man sleeping in spirit is dreaming in his mind: the life and person imagined is no more alive than the personalities in poems 449 and 465. Dickinson’s perspectives on death indicate awareness: she regarded the fly’s buzz, felt stillness in the air, observed the light, and took solace in kinsmen-ship, or rather, friendship. All these things slip through the cracks of daily routine; it is best to recover them before death. Otherwise, death will be no different than sealing an empty envelope.

 

I See Dead People: An Old Adage

“In America especially, we are wrapped up in what people think of us. Our entire [culture] is grounded in cliques, social status, and brands. The core of this groundwork is the “need” to have the right people like you. Since when has that mattered? Are you running for a political office? If the answer to that question was no, then focus on you, not them…” – Phill Easley,  from You Are What You Love

Referring to and moved by the simple quip “You are what you love, not who loves you”, Phill continues to delineate on a number of identity issues to which several souls succumb: many people identify themselves via the identity of a significant other; certain people, perhaps, identify themselves solely by a political or socioeconomic class; and others, even identify themselves in terms purely based out of religious conviction. These are but a few sources anyone can draw from the identity pool: ethnicity, sociocultural stigma, marital role, career choice, technological devices (phones, gadgets, computers, gaming systems, etc.), internet (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, etc.), and so on and so forth. None of these even slightly relate to who a person is. If all the of the aforementioned identity-bubbles were painted grey and popped, what is left? The inside is left; you are left.

The initial clause, “You are what you love…”, is inspirational; the latter clause, “…not who loves you.”, is liberating. Most people find peace in something – even if that something is nothing in particular. Most times, people are inhibited from doing that something by: physical barriers, metaphysical barriers (e.g., others’ expectations; self-imposed expectations), depression, demotivation, a career path or lack thereof, and the list goes on. That anyone’s peace-bringing something, or nothing in particular, would be suppressed by external or internal forces is grievous.

If we live without allotting some or much of our time for the something that makes us, us, then our life lived without our something is devoid of truth. If a lie is presupposed not to exist, then our pseudo-us may also be presupposed not to exist. If you fail to do what makes you, you; you, though existing, fail to live. Ignorance of one’s self is ignorance of life – a special form of death. The initial clause, “You are what you love…”, represents your something; the latter clause, “…not who loves you.“, represents your something unshackled.

“What do you love? What of you, by you, and from you is so inseparable from your being that its very absence would make you stop being you? That is who you are. And it is only through discovering what you love–that inmost core, hardwired into the recesses of your soul– that you find you.” – Phill Easley,  from You Are What You Love

Draped with Chains: The Important Thing I Allowed Myself to Lose

There was a time in my life when I would battle within fortified castle walls, luxuriously abide in a mansion, and plot devious operations within the confines of my personal headquarters: my treehouse. Sometimes my treehouse served as a cabin where I would vacate from childhood woes and home life; as if either were not, in reality, quite nearby. I would retreat to the five-foot by five-foot loft on cool nights and sprawl my body across the gaping floorboards. If it were raining, I would peer out the somberly small square window, relaxing as I observed the rainfall.  My treehouse was what Lemony Snicket might call a “sanctuary.”

Formed out of semi-solid planks and glazed with chipping paint, my treehouse walls sheltered me with adamancy, sobriety, and the caring craftsmanship of my father. It was magic fortified with wonder.

These days, my dilapidating treehouse door refuses to allow my entrance; Life, who instructed me to grow up, locked the magic inside. The entrance is barred shut by others’ expectations of success and approval. Misplaced priorities and responsibilities concerning education, finances, and careers shut the window I once peered through. The world forged drapes of chains out of a cast-iron obsession with greed, power, and sexual inclinations. Common notions of how man ought to live, with and without faith, crucified the magic which hemmed me in.

No more will I allow the harrowed magic to remain as such. Jesus called us to be as one of the little ones, a child. Confidently, I pray that His grace and Spirit, dwelling with and within me, transform me into an all-seeing-child.

The life of a child is simple and undefined, allowing the father to guide and nurture it. The splendor of creation is my new treehouse, sheltering me with adamancy, sobriety, and the caring craftsmanship of my Father above. Its doors are open, unbound and abounding with magic and wonder within. Christ broke the bars of expectations. God’s grace swung open the window, and His unbearable peace shines through, illuminating the loft with his grand working and schema. The cast-iron drapes we forged are unlinked, scattered, and falling through the floorboards gaping with His Spirit’s breadth. God’s notion of how man ought to live is resurrected with the Son, restoring us to childlike magic. I am a child once more.

“…people die in monotony every day. Pain and euphoria remind us that we are alive. If the magic ceases to exist, then life is pointless.” – Autumn Jade Monroe

Cityscape Empire: Our Temporal Abodes

Stars halt my racing heart and Nashville’s city-lights catch my eyes on the yield. My mind ponders over the light emanating from the streets, towers, and Hustler Hollywood. All forms of socioeconomic class and ethnic group flock to the city of Nashville, and I wonder: to what end was such a city conjured? On an individual basis, a man understands that he is finite and his efforts will fade away; on a universal basis, mankind lives and acts as though it is immortal and its institutions will undoubtedly withstand the trial of ages.

Light’s mere existence renders me breathless, let alone a metropolitan night. Mankind raises constructions which simultaneously enamor and tear me inside. All that has been, is being, and will be built up will be torn down. Ceaselessly, mankind plays in its sandcastles without accounting for the coming tide.

Though we are frozen within our own time, we are warm just enough to move. Any success or lack thereof a man may consider himself to have accomplished has an end: it is simply and truthfully the nature of finite things to remain as such. Man may work to live or live to work; death closes both cases, and our cityscapes stand tall as ephemeral empires.