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Pichayathida Siriwechdaruk

Mr.Jamie Schelz

English 11

May 29, 2017

Emily Dickinson, Death, and Puritanism

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, widely known as Emily Dickinson, is one of the towering

figures of American literature. She was born December 10, 1830, in Massachusetts. She left

school as a teenager, gradually secluded herself socially, and was almost completely isolated

from the outside world by her late twenties. Dickinson was raised in a Calvinist household,

but her antecedents could be traced back to the early Puritan settlers, which probably affected

her belief in Puritanism ("Emily Dickinson," 2017). Puritanism is a belief that emerged

during the middle of the sixteenth century in the Church of England (Heyrman,

n.d). Dickinson uses her poems to express her ideas about different aspects of death.

Dickinsons obsession with death is shown in her poems developed due to beliefs in

Puritanism and physical isolation. The themes of death that she often uses describe the

moment of death and burial, the day of dying, and being forgotten after death.

Dickinson had revealed her thoughts on the topic of the process of death and afterlife

as not a scary process and life is just a small part of a big journey according to Puritanism

beliefs by using the poem Because I could not stop for death. Firstly, she expresses the

process of death by revealing it as if she is having a date with a gentleman, who is actually

death himself. In the second line, she wrote "He kindly stopped for me --," referring to death,

who had stopped and picked her up. Moreover, there are some of the lines that show

Dickinson's belief in afterlife and that life is just a small part of a bigger journey. Those ideas

stated were shown in the last two lines. "I first surmised the Horses' Heads" "Were toward

Eternity-. The two last lines give images to the readers that the character 'I' is in the
carriage, in which the carriage horse is heading toward eternity. It shows that Dickinson

thought life is just a part of a long journey, meaning that afterlife, there is eternity, in which

the identity of eternity is still unknown. The fact that she uses a carriage in this poem

emphasizes that she is on a journey towards eternity, and life is just a part of that journey that

she had passed. In addition, the carriage in the poem didn't stop at any point, accentuating

that the journey has not ended yet. This belief is associated with Puritanism in such way that

life is just a small part of a journey. Afterlife, some of the dead would be elected by the God.

The elected would live their afterlife in heaven eternally, while the ones who are not elected

would suffer eternal damnation in hell (Puritanism, 2013). The poem Because I could not

stop for death shows that Emily Dickinson views death as not frightening. Also, she

expresses her belief in afterlife and Puritanism, which means she believes in immortality,

meaning that life after life exists, and that life is just a small part of a journey towards

eternity, which opposes the overall theme of the poem which is death. In other words, there is

no true death.

Dickinson conveyed her message that no one will be remembered after their death, no

matter what the reason behind the death was in her poem, I died for beauty -- but was

scarce. The first stanza of the poem revealed two characters, one died for beauty and another

died for truth. The two were laid next to each other and they 'talked'. The poem reveals that

there is no discrimination when it comes to death. This idea stated is supported by the second

to last line of the second stanza which stated, He questioned softly why I failed?/ For

beauty, I replied./And I for truth,the two are one;/We brethren are, he said, in which

the line is an allusion, referring to John Keats poem, Ode on a Grecian Ura, which stated

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all. The use of allusion shows that Dickinson was

influenced by the Keats work, meaning that she was educated as a poet. In addition, the

poem also stated the idea that no matter what the reason behind the dying was, the death
would be forgotten. It was stated in the last two lines of the poem, "Until the moss had

reached our lips,/ And covered up our names. This poem has the association with Puritanism

in such ways that it is believed that ones behavior during life won't affect one after their

death. According to Puritan beliefs, the God do not take in account the deeds that humans did

during their lives when it comes to deciding who would be damned or saved. This concept is

known as The Predestination (Heyrman, n.d). To wrap up, I died for beauty - but was

scarce' reflects Emilys belief in Puritanism and her belief that no matter what the reason

behind the death was, the dead would still, be eventually forgotten.

Other than the process of death and the non-discrimination of death, Dickinson also

talked about dying of rationality and burial ceremony in the poem 'I felt a funeral, in my

brain. The first line of the poem, which also was used as the name that the poem was

referred as, shows that the poem will talk about the burial and the funeral of a person.

However, a funeral could not take place in a person's brain. Thus, the first line of the poem

shows that instead of discussing the real death of people and mortality, the poem would

discuss the death of rationality by using the funeral as a metaphor. This idea is also supported

by the last line of the first stanza, "That Sense was breaking through --. The mourners in the

poem represent either pain or unstoppable thoughts according to the second stanza, which

states, "And when they all were seated, / A Service, like a Drum -/ Kept beating - beating -

till I thought/ My mind was going numb -. The mourners also represent the pressure

according to the line "Kept treading - treading - till it seemed. Unlike traditional funeral,

there are no prayers for the dead shown in the poem, in which it resembles the Puritan burial

ceremony, and hence, shows Dickinson's beliefs in Puritanism. In addition, the death of

rationality that is expressed in the poem probably is related to Dickinsons social isolation in

such way that she realized that she lost her sanity and, hence, had secluded herself from the

outside world. To summarize, the poem I felt a funeral, in my brain used the process of
dying and burial, in which also represents her beliefs, as the theme to express another theme,

the transcendence to irrationality.

From these poems, it is shown that the theme of mortality is used by Dickinson to

express her thoughts on many aspects of death. The topic that she writes about is the process

of dying, burial ceremony, afterlife, and non-discrimination of death. In addition, her poems

Because I could not stop for death, I died for beauty -- and was scarce, and I felt a

funeral, in my brain shows her belief in Puritanism. In the poem Because I could not stop

for death, her belief that life is just a small part of a bigger journey, which is a teaching of

Puritanism, was shown. While the Puritan belief that there is no discrimination in death, also

used as the overall theme of the poem, was shown in I died for beauty -- but was scarce. On

the other hand, the poem I felt a funeral, in my brain expresses her belief in Puritanism

through the use of a funeral that resembles a Puritan burial ceremony. However, the main

focus of the poem poem relates to Dickinsons life due to the mentioning of loss of

rationality, which probably is the reason to Dickinsons seclusion. To conclude, Dickinson's

death poems express her ideas about death, in which her passion for writing about death had

developed due to the belief in Puritanism and the seclusion from society.
References

Biography Emily Dickinson. (n.d). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from

http://www.biographyonline.net/poets/emily_dickinson.html

Heyrman, C. L. (n.d). Puritanism and Predestination. Retrieved May 19, 2017 from

http://faculty.fiu.edu/~harveyb/puritan.htm

Puritanism. (n.d). Retrieved May 28, 2017 from

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_18c/defoe/puritanism.html#r

egenerate