The Bustle in a House

Emily Dickinson

‘The Bustle in a House’ by Emily Dickinson is a short poem about the effects of death. It describes the “bustle” in a home the morning after an important loss.

Emily Dickinson

Nationality: America

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: People cope with grief by turning to tradition

Themes: Death

Speaker: Someone analyzing death

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Grief

Poetic Form: Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

The poet asks readers to imagine the aftermath of a death and how traditions might be interpreted as a coping mechanism for grief itself.

The Bustle in a House‘ is relatively direct, especially for Dickinson’s work. Readers should easily comprehend the images she brings to mind in the two stanzas. Plus, she spends the lines describing the very relatable subject matter. This likely means that most readers will be able to place themselves in the shoes of one of the inhabitants of the home. 

The Bustle in a House
Emily Dickinson

The Bustle in a HouseThe Morning after DeathIs solemnest of industriesEnacted opon Earth –

The Sweeping up the HeartAnd putting Love awayWe shall not want to use againUntil Eternity –
The Bustle in a House by Emily Dickinson


The Bustle in a House’ by Emily Dickinson is a short, direct poem about the impact of grief.

In the first lines of the first quatrain, the speaker describes the bustle of home the morning after death. It’s the most solemn and grief-filled of atmospheres. The men and women in this home are going about their lives, doing what they need to do to recover and protect themselves from further losses. They put their hearts and loves away, ensuring that no one else’s death can bring the same trauma. It’s only in “Eternity,” Dickinson concludes, that anyone is going to love as they used to before such a loss. 

Structure and Form

The Bustle in a House’ by Emily Dickinson is a two-stanza poem separated into quatrains or sets of four lines. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, something that is unusual for Dickinson’s poetry. The poet did choose to use lines of trimeter and tetrameter in this poem, though. Lines one, two, and four of each stanza are written in iambic trimester, while the third line of both stanzas is in iambic tetrameter. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza one as well as lines one and two of stanza two.
  • Personification: the use of human descriptions to describe non-human things. For example, “The Sweeping up the Heart / And putting Love away.”
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “We” and “want” in stanza two.
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially interesting and evocative descriptions. For example, “The Bustle in a House / The Morning after Death.”

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted opon Earth –

In the first stanza of ‘The Bustle in a House,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be utilized as the poem’s title. This was more than often the case with Dickinson’s poetry as they went unnamed by the poet. She describes what it’s like in a home after a death the previous day. The word “bustle” is not the obvious choice here. It’s likely that most readers are going to be surprised to hear it in connection with a recent death. 

She goes on, helping readers better visualize what she’s describing by saying the bustle is “solemnest of industries / Enacted upon the Earth.” It’s a dark practice, filled with grief, trying to come to terms with a loss that will never be regained. 

Stanza Two 

The Sweeping up the Heart

And putting Love away

We shall not want to use again

Until Eternity –

In the following lines, the speaker adds that part of the “industry” of the morning after death is “Sweeping up the Heart / And putting Love away.” The death was obviously, at least in this scenario, someone who was incredibly important. They might’ve been a husband, wife, child, or any other family member. The speaker subjects have been so changed by the loss that they decide they don’t want to “use” their hearts or experience love again until “Eternity.” At this time, when they are all in Heaven, there will be no need to fear the unbearable grief of death. 


What is the tone of ‘The Bustle in a House?

The tone descriptive and confident. The speaker knows exactly how they feel and what they do after a death. There is no hesitation in their tone. They know exactly how terrible the sorrow is going to be.

What is the purpose of ‘The Bustle in a House?

The purpose is to share the effects of grief in a relatable and moving way. Readers should walk away from this piece with a better understanding of how the speaker experiences grief and perhaps a more general knowledge of how a significant loss can affect someone, especially if they themselves have not experienced one.

Who is the speaker in ‘The Bustle in a House?

It’s unclear who the speaker is, but it’s someone who is very aware of what it’s like after an important person in one’s life dies. They are aware of the ins and outs of grief and the way it changes one on a personal level. 

What are the themes in ‘The Bustle in a House?

The themes at work in this poem are change, death, and the afterlife. The speaker ends with the latter, suggesting that it’s the only time and place that anyone will have their love and hearts restored. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘The Bustle in a House’ should also consider reading some other Emily Dickinson poems. For example: 

  • Fame is a bee’ – uses a bee to describe the fleeting nature of fame. She uses clever images and original poetic writing throughout.
  • The Letter’ – a sweet love poem. It is told from the perspective of a love letter.
  • Heart, we will forget him!’ – a keen observation of the aftermath of a powerful love affair and how it will, or will not, be “forgotten.”

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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