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Nature, God, Afterlife, and Death in Emily Dickinson’s Poems

“That’s all I have to bring today, this and my heart beside it, this and my heart and all the fields, and all the wide meadows” (33). These are the words of Emily Dickinson, a woman revered as one of America’s greatest poets. During her life she lived a life of seclusion, but in this seclusion she composed over seventeen hundred poems which very few of excellence can match. In her poems, Dickinson crafted a unique style of writing, in which she appealed to the use of simplistic language and childlike innocence to convey complex ideas. These complex ideas were expressed through the use of nature, God, eternity and death. Throughout her poems, Emily Dickinson uses nature, God, the afterlife, and death to convey complex messages or ideas while expressing her thoughts in simple language.

Nature is an element that frequents Dickinson’s poems as a means of conveying messages of life. Through the inclusion of familiar aspects of wildlife, such as bumblebees and flowers, she is able to paint a picture that depicts the hopes and anxieties encountered throughout daily life. One of these poems begins thus: “A wounded deer leaps the highest, I heard the hunter say; it is only the ecstasy of death, and then the brake stops” (62). In this stanza, Dickinson compares the injured deer to a human being who has been hurt, emotionally or physically in their past. The wounded deer, which has been shot or injured on a previous occasion, jumps higher to ensure that it will not be injured a second time. Like the deer, an emotionally or physically injured human being will also subconsciously move aside to avoid further injury.

This fear instilled in bruised humans can play out on many levels, from something as simple and bodily as a broken limb, to something as emotional or spiritual as a broken heart. Dickinson, in the simplest words and through nature’s eyes, is clearly able to convey the concept of a deep emotional wound. A second poem says: “God made a little gentian; she tried to be a rose and failed, and all summer laughed” (127). This poem, composed in elementary terms, emphasizes the idea of ​​individuality for the reader. He warns not to be like the little blue flower, which tries to become what it is not and laughs at the season around it. Dickinson’s message is clear: people should be comfortable with who and what they are, and should not desire to be something completely alien to them. Just as gentian can only be gentian, a person can only be what and who they are, and there is nothing wrong with being yourself. In a third poem, Dickinson uses nature to depict life and death. It begins with, “I’ll tell you how the sun rose, – one sliver at a time. The steeples swam in amethyst, the news ran like squirrels” (104). This first stanza is meant to symbolize birth and the beginning of life. The rising sun is often a common symbol for new life, and Dickinson employs it here with the gentle innocence that “one ribbon at a time” conveys. To contrast this stanza, Dickinson writes in a later stanza:

“But how the sun set, I don’t know.

It seemed a purple amount

What little yellow boys and girls

Went up all the time

Until they reach the other side

A dominatrix in gray

Gently climbs the bars of the evening,

And led the flock.” (105)

The setting sun is used in this situation to symbolize death, the end of life here on this earth. This death is further reinforced in the next stanza when the dominie, or ecclesiastic, “gently mounts the evening bars and leads the flock” (105). The dominion is a direct parallel to God, leading new recipients of eternal salvation away from earth and into heaven.

Another element that can be identified in Emily Dickinson’s poems is her blend of traditional and unique views on God and eternity. An excellent example of Dickinson’s individuality and creativity in the field of religion is his poem “Some Keep the Sabbath in Church”. This delightful work explains how instead of attending a Sunday service, Dickinson sanctifies the Sabbath by staying home. In one stanza, she explains her Sunday saying, “God preaches, – a noted clergyman, – and the sermon is never long; so instead of finally getting to heaven, I go all the way!” (110). With simple language and sophisticated humour, Dickinson explains that the word of God does not have to be preached in a chapel, but can be found in any setting. God is portrayed as a personal and loving being, in contrast to the God of fire and brimstone often preached in the 19th century. She also reveals an inner belief of hers that, contrary to what was believed in her day, going to heaven is not an arduous task of trying not to sin or to be a good person, but a journey. “I go there all the time! she proclaims with confidence and joy, as if God had told her that there is a place for her in his kingdom. This idea of ​​eternity is recurrent in many of Dickinson’s poems. Another piece that illustrates Dickinson’s belief in the afterlife reads: “This world is not a conclusion; a sequel stands beyond, unseen, as music, but positive, as than his” (135). There is not the slightest sense of uncertainty found anywhere in these lines. “This world is not a conclusion” inculcates Dickinson. There is life after this world, and though it may be invisible, like music to the eyes, it is a definite and positive reality, like sound to the ears.

As in the earlier poems where Emily Dickinson affirmed her belief that there was indeed life after death, another style found throughout her poems is that of the questioning of the unknown that accompanies the au -of the. She displays a childlike curiosity to what the afterlife will hold and how it will compare to the dirt and soil she has spent her life on. This curiosity is made more evident in his poem “What is – ‘Paradise’-“, which reads as follows:

“What – ‘paradise’ –

Who lives there –

Are they “farmers” –

Do they “hoe” –

Do they know it’s ‘Amherst’ –

And that I – come – too –

Are they wearing “new shoes” – in “Eden” –

Is it always pleasant – there –

Won’t they rumble – when we’re homesick –

Or tell God – how angry we are -” (99)

The first stanza begins with a general question about what eternity is, which it immediately follows with “Who lives there?” This question triggers a series of other unanswered questions about whether there is work in Heaven. The next question asked, which reads: “Are they aware that it is ‘Amherst – and that I – come – too -” refers to the consciousness of souls in heaven. When Heaven is reached, do people realize that they are part of eternal salvation? Are they aware of the world they left behind, and if so, do they know what souls will join them in salvation? With these simple words, most of which are two syllables or less, Dickinson is able to ask complex questions whose answers cannot be fathomed by the human mind. In the second stanza, Dickinson introduces the reader to his childlike curiosity, which in this case mingles with his undeniable humor. She wonders if Heaven will be pleasant, which is lovely because with the idea of ​​Heaven comes a vision of eternal happiness; to ask such a question about the agreeableness of eternal salvation seems quite ridiculous. Dickinson then pursues this question by asking whether a celestial body is homesick for its life on Earth. This idea, brimming with childlike innocence, adds a whole new dimension to the poem. Once in Heaven, is it possible for a being to want to return to earth? Do members of the celestial community yearn for the people, places, and things found throughout their previous lives? These seemingly unanswered questions are the essence of Dickinson’s desire to understand the unknown beyond.

Finally, death is a component of Dickinson’s copious poems, ambivalently personified. For example, one of his poems begins:

“Because I couldn’t stoop for death

He kindly stopped for me;

The car held up but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We drove slowly, he didn’t know how to hurry,

And I tidied up

My work, and my hobbies too,

For his civility” (151).

In this simple but vivid portrait that Dickinson paints, death is not portrayed as something horrible and terrible, but rather personified by a gentleman suitor who has just arrived to take her on a date. True to the traditions of that time, the date is capped by the personification of Immortality. In the next stanza, the chariot is described as rolling slowly and showing no haste. This corresponds to the timeless state of being that accompanies death; the time that was once so precious on Earth loses its meaning as it enters the afterlife. Along with the lack of importance of time, Dickinson points out that there is no work, and therefore no leisure after life stating, “And I set aside my work, and my leisure too, to his civility” (151). So out of respect for death, she retires from her work and hobbies and just enjoys the ride with Death for Immortality. However, the courtly death of the last poem is completely foreign to “I heard a fly buzz when I died”, which in one of these stanzas reads: “With a blue hum, uncertain and stumbling, between the light and me; and then the windows failed, and then I could no longer see” (132). Death in this scenario, while at first glance may seem peaceful, is actually quite terrifying. Dickinson masterfully uses the fly as a symbol of the gruesome side of death, as flies are often depicted as creatures that feed on decaying flesh. As instinctively drawn to the death of the narrator, the thought of the fly destroying its flesh is the only thing that stands between the end of its life on Earth and the salvation of light.

Emily Dickinson’s poems use simplistic language to express complex ideas through nature, God, the afterlife and death. This unique style that she created herself has become synonymous with her name with her poems. Although very little was shared during her lifetime, Dickinson’s poems today represent a woman who fused her talent and passion for poetry to create some of the greatest works America has ever seen. No one can describe Dickinson’s poetry better than herself, so in conclusion:

“This is my letter to the world,

This never wrote to me, –

The simple news that nature announced,

With tender majesty.

His message is committed

At the hands I can’t see;

For the love of his gentle compatriots,

Judge me tenderly!” (102).

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