Departed To The Judgment

Emily Dickinson

‘Departed To The Judgment’ by Emily Dickinson discusses death and the afterlife. The speaker explores their beliefs about both and how they contrast with others’.


Emily Dickinson

Nationality: American

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Death is a major event that can't be avoided

Themes: Death

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Bravery, Contentment, Faith

Poetic Form: Free Verse, Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

Faith and mortality are two of Dickinson's essential themes. In this poem, she merges them in a short expression of acceptance.

While all around her, people in what was called “The Great Awakening” expressed that they had given their lives over to God, Dickinson considered herself “one of the lingering bad ones”(The Dickinson Properties). It is interesting that she referred to herself in that manner.  It is as if there was a part of her that longed to believe and have the assurance of life after death that everyone around her seemed to have, but for some reason, she couldn’t. She did not argue that others were wrong in their beliefs. She simply expressed her own inability to adhere to the same philosophical ideas.

Many of her poems reveal her fear of death. ‘Because I could not Stop for Death‘ reveals her feelings that death is a trickster that will come to steal you in the night. In ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain‘ and ‘I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died‘ she expresses her discontentment with the idea of her own death. As she tries to imagine, something is always not quite right.

Something is missing. Something is less than peaceful. Thus, it makes sense to conclude that she wished she could have assurance in death like everyone around her seemed to have. That is the main teaching of Christianity, after all, that one might be certain of his eternity because of a belief in Jesus Christ. But Dickinson did not feel this assurance. Poem after poem reveals her agitated feelings toward the idea of her own death. Time and time again, she tried to imagine it.

In many of her poems, she writes as a speaker from beyond the grave. It is as if she has already gone there herself, or at least made every attempt to imagine life after death. These poems are so moving because everyone has contemplated death at one point or another, and most fear death more than anything else. Dickinson’s poems are certainly less than comforting.

They do not offer assurance of life after death. They do not offer comfort at the loss of a loved one. They do not promise eternity in paradise or any such thing. Rather, they exemplify Dickinson’s feelings toward death. They reveal feelings of fear, discontentment, and uncertainty. These are all feelings that readers can deeply relate to when they think about death.

Departed to the judgment
Emily Dickinson

Departed to the judgment,A mighty afternoon ;Great clouds like ushers leaning,Creation looking on.

The flesh surrendered, cancelled,The bodiless begun ;Two worlds, like audiences, disperseAnd leave the soul alone.
Departed To The Judgment by Emily Dickinson

Departed To The Judgment Analysis

Stanza One

Departed to the judgment,
A mighty afternoon;
Great clouds like ushers leaning,
Creation looking on.

Emily Dickinson has a way of beginning her poems with a phrase curious enough to leave the readers fascinated. She begins this poem with “Departed to the judgment”. The word “Departed” was written in all capital letters, placing emphasis on that word. “The judgment” is commonly understood according to the Christian beliefs about life after death.

Growing up surrounded by Puritan ideals and the teachings of “The Great Awakening”, Dickinson was sure to have heard countless ideas about judgment day. Early American Christians believed that when a person died, his or her soul was taken before God for judgment. There, the person would either be judged by his or her own actions, and cast away from God forever, or that person would be seen as perfect because he or she had believed in Jesus Christ.

The main teachings of her time included the idea that no one could enter heaven based on his or her good life. The Puritans strove to live pure lives, but not because they thought it would get them past judgment day.

Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” reveals God’s anger at any and all sin. He also suggests that God’s arms are open wide to receive any who have believed that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for all sins. This is the message that Dickinson grew up surrounded by. ‘Departed To The Judgment’ itself doesn’t reveal her personal beliefs, only that she imagines that she is “departed” and gone “to the judgment”.

Stanza Two

The flesh surrendered, cancelled
The bodiless begun;
Two worlds, like audiences, disperse
And leave the soul alone.

The speaker uses the words “surrendered” and “cancelled” to describe what happens to “the flesh”. She expresses that “the bodiless” has begun. This refers to yet another Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the resurrection. The Christian church taught that when a person died, they would remain “bodiless” until the resurrection day, which was a day when people would receive their new and glorified bodies.

So as the speaker imagines her own death, she expresses that she is now “bodiless”. She then says that “two worlds” disappear before her eyes.

It is unclear exactly what those two worlds are. One of them is likely this earth. The other is possibly heaven, but it remains ambiguous. The speaker feels like an actor after the audience has left. She describes herself as a “soul alone”. It is unclear where she has gone, but it would appear that the speaker believes that she is to be left utterly alone.

Emily Dickinson Background

Dickinson’s life experiences certainly shaped her feelings toward death. During Dickinson’s early years, she experienced the death of many people close to her, including that of her cousin. It is easy to see why she felt familiar with death. Emily Dickinson also lived near a cemetery, so she watched many people, even loved ones riding in a hearse to their final resting places. This is a likely inspiration for the setting of ‘Departed To The Judgment’.

In times of sorrow, she would likely have heard sermons about salvation, paradise, and mansions waiting in eternity. Most of her poems, however, reveal that she did not accept these teachings. Rather, she continued to view death as something she feared. Her poetry reveals her attempts to become comfortable with the idea of her own death, to embody it, to imagine it, but she cannot. Every attempt to write from beyond the grave reveals her own feelings of uncertainty.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.

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