‘Because I could not stop for death,’ Dickinson’s best-known poem, is a depiction of one speaker’s journey into the afterlife with personified “Death” leading the way.
'Because I could not stop for Death’ is undoubtedly one of Dickinson’s most famous poems. It is common within her works to find death used as a metaphor or symbol, but this piece far outranks the rest. “Death” appears as a real being. He takes the speaker by the hand a guides her on a carriage ride into the afterlife. There is a simplicity to the lines which puts the reader at ease. Any fear associated with the afterlife is far from one’s mind. Instead, a reader is treated to images of the “Setting Sun” and children at play. It is generally considered to be one of the greatest poems in the English language.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about hope. It is depicted through the famous metaphor of a bird.
This is perhaps Emily Dickinson’s best-known, and most loved poem. It is much lighter than the majority of her works and focuses on the personification of hope. It is a bird that perches inside her soul and sings. The bird asks for nothing. It is at peace, and is, therefore, able to impart the same hope and peace to the speaker. She can depend on it, and take pleasure from it. The text is also prime example of the way that Dickinson used nature as a metaphor for the most complicated of human emotions.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.
Emily Dickinson wrote prolifically on her own struggles with mental health and no piece is better known than this one in that wider discussion of her work. Within the text she uses various metaphors, concerned with life and death, to discuss endings, beginnings and the deep, unshakable fear of losing one’s mind. The speaker depicts the slipping away of her sanity through the image of mourners wandering around in her head. They are in a cycle of sorts, unable to break out or change their pattern.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -
‘The heart asks pleasure first’ by Emily Dickinson depicts the needs of the heart. They are highly changeable and include pleasure and excuse from pain.
Within this poem Dickinson touches on death and depicts it as something that is in the end, desirable. The speaker moves through the things that a human being wants most in their life. The first is an active pleasure. But for some, this is impossible. Next on her list is an escape from pain. If life could progress without trauma, that would be enough. Lastly, there are sleep and death. It is better to die, the speaker implies than to live a life of suffering, devoid of pleasure or peace.
The Heart asks Pleasure—first—
And then—Excuse from Pain—
And then—those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering—
‘I died for beauty but was scarce’ by Emily Dickinson reflects her fascination for death and the possible life to follow.
Published in 1890, this moving poem is one of Emily Dickinson's best. This is particularly true when it comes to poems about death and the meaning of life. It features two mysterious speakers who are discussing their different ideologies in the afterlife. One of the two died for beauty, and the other died for truth. In the end, Dickinson concludes, why one died doesn't matter. Death itself is far more important.
I died for Beauty - but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room -
‘I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable depiction of the moments before death. The speaker emphasizes the stillness of the room and the movements of a single fly.
In this striking and popular poem, Dickinson's narrator is on their deathbed, not yet embarking on their own ride with “Death.” Everyone is gathered around this dying person, trying to comfort them, but also waiting for the “King.” In amongst all the grandeur of the moment, there is a small fly. This is how Dickinson chose to personify death in ‘I heard a Fly buzz – when I died.’ It moves between the speaker and the light in the room and that is the end.
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 -
‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson is one of Dickinson’s best-loved poems. It explores an unknown “truth” that readers must interpret in their own way.
The title outlines the major themes of this playful and beautiful poem. The poet writes that one should tell the truth, but not straightforwardly. This is associated with Dickinson’s own writing practice and her fondness for similes and metaphors. Slightly complicating a truth will make it more interesting to a reader or listener. If one has to look a little harder, then in the end the reward will be greater when the truth is made clear.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex, metaphorical poem. The poet depicts a woman who is under a man’s control and sleeps like a load gun.
The gun is a powerful and moving image in this poem that has made the text one of Dickinson's most commonly studied. The gun, and later Mount Vesuvius, represent the anger that builds up inside one’s mind and heart until it can be contained no longer. The problem with letting it out is that it can never be captured again. It is loose in the world, wreaking havoc. She implies in the text that the gun can kill but cannot be killed. The metaphorical shooter of the gun is not in control of their anger if they give in.
My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -
‘A Bird, came down the Walk’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful nature poem. It focuses on the actions of a bird going about its everyday life.
This piece is slightly more straightforward than some of Emily Dickinson’s more complicated verses. She makes use of natural images, triggering the senses, as she speaks on a bird and its eyes and “Velvet Head.” The poem chronicle the simple life of a bird as it moves from grass to bugs and from fear to peace. Dickinson also makes use of original words such as “plashless.” A feature that alludes to her well-known love of words and the power of meter.
A Bird, came down the Walk -
He did not know I saw -
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ by Emily Dickinson is a multi-faceted poem. It explores an ambiguous relationship that could be religious or sexual.
In this poem the reigning image is that of the sea. It is skillfully used as a metaphor to depict passion and desire. This poem is often displaced from the minds of those who consider Dickinson’s life. It speaks to powerful love and lust and is at odds with the common image of the poet as a virginal recluse who never knew true love. The details of her life suggest otherwise as does this text, to some readers anyway. There is an alternative interpretation of ‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ though. There are those who believe that Dickinson was speaking about her passion for God, another common theme in her works, rather than sexual love.
Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ by Emily Dickinson reflects the poet’s emotions. It reveals her disdain for publicity and her preference for privacy.
This poem speaks on the pleasures of being unknown, alone and unbothered by the world at large. It displays Dickinson’s characteristic writing style at its finest, with plenty of capital letters and dashes. The poem also connects to her own personal life. Emily Dickinson published very few of her more than 1,500 poems during her lifetime and chose to live simply. This seems to be something she is advocating the pleasures of within ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too? T
hen there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
‘I have never seen “Volcanoes”’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever, complex poem that compares humans and their emotions to a volcano’s eruptive power.
The poem is one of several of Dickinson's that draw upon the imagery of erupting volcanoes to convey ideas about the human experience.
‘Twas the old — road — through pain—’ by Emily Dickinson describes a woman’s path from life to death and her entrance into Heaven.
A good example of Dickinson's poetry, particuarlly of her use of dashes and capitalization.