Dickinson : Her Fascination With Death
Emily Dickinson's poems weren't named; they were
numbered. Perhaps this fact is indicative of her
lack of interest in life's wonder and her known fascination
with death and the mundane. Academics today
generally refer to Dickinson's poems by their
introductory lines in lieu of any real title. Among
her better known works are such dismal poems as
"After Great Pain A Formal Feeling
Comes," "Because I Could Not Stop For
Death," & "I Felt A Funeral In My
Brain." Dickinson is known for having led a
markedly reclusive lifestyle; fascinated by death
and the idea that it should be celebrated with more
than just a sense of dignity.
Emily Dickinson was born into an era that consisted of well-established boundaries in regard to the
sexes-- boundaries that distinctly marked the territory of each of these sexes and clearly delineated the behaviors and responses expected from each in turn. In this mid-nineteenth century setting, the male was a formidable and dominant character, and much of the female's future and security depended on her ability to present a "serene display" that was in sync with the picture of femininity as shaped by the popular male opinions of the day.
Emily Dickinson was born into this era, but into a household that was slightly out of tune with the precarious balance of male and female power that made up the symphony of the average nineteenth century home. The parental figures that guided the children of the Dickinson household, Emily, sister Lavinia, and brother Austin, consisted of a mother who has been described at best as "shrinking" and a father many have termed as "tyrannical" (Monarch Notes PG; McDonald PG). Within this household, Emily's early life was a contradiction in itself, for she received no guidance from a mother that did not "care for thought" and mixed signals from a father who brought her books, then forbid her to read them in fear that they would "joggle her mind" (Monarch Notes PG).
Remarks About Dickinson
(beyond the scope of this short website
introduction) would make up the majority of Emily Dickinson's life
and follow her even into her reclusive state. Her poems of love, as well as the poems of time and death that came to mark what critics call her most powerful work, all simultaneously suggest the actions of first embracing,
then rejecting. The intense love affairs of which she wrote have been read as many by primarily situations that she constructed within her own mind and solitude, and representative of the love, hate, love relationship she shared with her father. Likewise, her reflections on time and death show a simultaneous acceptance of the Calvinistic beliefs of her childhood and a rejection
of these beliefs by her active, freethinking mind. Life itself never lived up to Emily Dickinson's personal expectations, therefore it became a lonely existence where the passage of time was marked by endless
"funerals in her brain."
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