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Nikole McGee

Mrs. Stanford

ENG 231

18 March 2018

There She Stands - Forever a Mentor

December 10th, 1830, a legend was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. One of America’s

greatest writers, Emily Dickinson, unknowingly influenced Americans generations after her

time. Though she was not popular in her own time, her writings have made her extremely famous

and her themes are timeless. Dickinson is commonly categorized as a realist because her poems

often deal with real perceptions of real events. Her writings are popular like some other

Americans’ because of her straightforward approach of topics that people generally do not speak

about. She does not tend to sugar-coat death or sorrow but instead embraces the negative and

portrays it as she sees it, making her unique among others. One can learn valuable lessons of life

as well as death by analyzing the poems of Emily Dickinson.

Death is one subject among many that Americans often avoid speaking about. That being

said, most of America’s great writers do not avoid the subject, rather they focus on it and portray

it unabashedly. This bravery is a trait that makes these writers unique. Dickinson is among those

who often employ death within their poems; some may even consider her to be obsessed. An

example of this can be seen in her untitled poem “479” which is also commonly called “Because

I could not stop for Death”:

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –

The Dews drew quivering and chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity – (​Dickinson, Emily​)

This poem is an interesting portrayal of a woman’s (the narrative’s) journey into the afterlife.

Dickinson’s description in this poem leads the reader to believe that the narrator died slowly,

maybe by disease; in the beginning of the poem the narrator is busy living, too busy to stop for

death, so death takes his time and waits for her. He takes her on a journey where she eventually

decides to stop working so hard, symbolizing that she is accepting death and can no longer

physically work, as the disease has taken its toll. By the end she has entered an entirely new

world where her home is now a grave for her physical body that she acknowledges as she passes

by it, but her soul carries on its journey and does not dwell in this same place. This particular

poem reflects Dickinson’s views of death, she obviously believes in some type of afterlife in

which the soul and the body separate, and the soul lives on always, in a different form when the

body dies.

Not all of Dickinson’s poems are about dying. Dickinson also illustrates emotions in

unorthodox ways, to accentuate the importance of emotions in a person’s life. This is evident in

another untitled poem of hers “764” or “My Life Had stood a Loaded Gun” :

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -

In Corners - till a Day

The Owner passed - identified -

And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -

And now We hunt the Doe -

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light

Opon the Valley glow -

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let it’s pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -

I guard My Master’s Head -

’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -

None stir the second time -

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -

Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live

He longer must - than I -

For I have but the power to kill,

Without - the power to die - (​Dickinson, Emily​)

This specific poem deals with the theme of anger, more specifically, extreme anger. The poem

begins saying “My Life had stood- A Loaded Gun” implying that the narrator is like a “Loaded

Gun” in the sense that he/she could “shoot” or blow up at any moment; the narrator considers

himself/herself dangerous because of the anger that he/she holds inside. Next, the “Owner” is a

male character that the narrator refers to and he can be seen as a symbol of anger, in this

perspective it is evident that anger controls the narrator and influences his/her actions (he takes
the narrator hunting and causes him/her to express anger openly). The anger then gives the

narrator some type of satisfaction, as he/she smiles and lets his/her “pleasure through”. After the

narrator has finished wreaking havoc for the day, he/she carefully protects and guards the

“Master” (another symbol of death), in other words, he/she defends the reasoning behind his/her

actions and is willing to kill (literally or metaphorically, it can be taken either way) to anyone

who opposes him/her. The poem finishes by explaining that with anger, the narrator is invincible

and can kill with confidence, but once stripped of this emotion, the narrator becomes vulnerable

and aware of his/her immortality. Here, Dickinson describes anger in a way that scares the

average person, but she realistically portrays the intensity of this emotion and the destruction that

some emotions can cause in a person’s life.

In the two poems previously discussed, Dickinson unveils avoided truths and beliefs,

shocking and enlightening her readers. Though both poems are centered around separate topics,

they are similar in various ways. Emily Dickinson tends to use a type of syntax called

“parataxis”, which means that the reader has to infer the relationship of two things in a given line

(CITE), for example “We slowly drove – He knew no haste”(​ Apr. 2016​). The use of this syntax

causes the reader to think about the poem in depth and allows the reader to interpret the meaning

of the poem in their own unique way. Dickinson also uses personification in both “479” and

“764”; in the poem “479” Dickinson personifies death as a patient male figure, whereas in poem

“764” Dickinson personifies anger as a powerful and controlling male figure. Her use of

personification in these examples makes the relationship between the narrator and the other

“characters” easy to understand. This is because humans are able to identify with physical
relationships easier than emotional or metaphorical relationships because this type of relationship

presents itself more clearly in life.

Though Dickinson uses similar techniques throughout her works, each poem has a

different thematic purpose. Poems “479” and “764” can be seen as having opposite tones: “479”

introduces death with a positive tone, explaining dying as a simple journey from one home to

another, while “764” refers to death in a very negative way, implying that anger gives the power

to kill and being vulnerable enough to be killed is a sign of weakness. These poems are also

written in opposing perspectives. Poem “479” is written in the perspective of the dying and

personifies death as a patient man instead of the expected scary figure. In contrast, “764” is

written in the perspective of the killer and anger is personified in an almost stereotypical style, as

an angry controlling force. Dickinson makes it clear that the poems both have completely

different themes as well. In poem “479”, Dickinson tells her readers that they should not be

afraid to die because even after their physical body passes on, their soul will continue to live, that

the body is just a temporary dwelling place for the soul. However, in poem “764”, Dickinson

focuses on life and warns her readers about the dangers that come with intense emotions like

anger, that such intense emotion can cause a person to act in certain ways, as if the person

becomes a slave, blind to the powers of anger.

On May 15, 1886. Emily Dickinson passed away in her hometown, Amherst,

Massachusetts. Her literary techniques and themes are still studied centuries after her death

because she was such a strong writer. Dickinson has taught many that the subject of death is not

something to shy away from but rather to embrace it and prepare for it. Every person has their

own beliefs about what happens after death, as does Dickinson, and she has the ability to inspire
readers to embrace their beliefs and be open about them. Dickinson will forever be a role model

in American literature but she can also be a role model in life in general; it’s all about reading

between the lines.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death (479) by Dickinson, Emily

My Life Had Stood - a Loaded Gun (764) by Dickinson, Emily

“Sidelong and Uncodifiable.”, Academy of American Poets, 25 Apr. 2016,