Death and Immortality

The Chariot

Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The carriage held but just Ourselves-
And Immortality.

We slowly drove-He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility-

We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess-in the Ring-
We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain-
We passed the Setting Sun-

Or rather-He passed Us-
The Dews drew quivering and chill-
For only Gossamer, my Gown-
My Tippet-only Tulle-

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground-
The Roof was scarcely visible-
The Cornice-in the Ground-

Since then-'tis Centuries-and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity-
I've Seen A Dying Eye

I've seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;
And then, obscure with fog,
And then be soldered down,
Without disclosing what it be,
'T were blessed to have seen.


My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

The Living do not know if anything exists after Death and so, to many, Death is viewed as the boundary of existence, and as an endpoint. In the poems "I've Seen a Dying Eye," "Parting," and "Because I could not stop for Death," Emily Dickinson analyzes Death and attempts to portray it as a stage of existence that acts as a bridge between life and eternity. Dickinson is able to probe the mystery of human death, but manages to remove the fearsomeness from it. By making Death just a single phase for the immortal soul, she is able to view Death and Immortality from a unique perspective, and even with a certain appreciation.

Emily Dickinson writes uniquely in that she never defines what she is addressing, and she often leaves open-ended conclusions to her writings. Dickinson is not always consistent in her views and they easily change from one poem to the next, depending on how she feels at a given moment. Dickinson is less interested in finding complete answers to questions that she is interested in analyzing and discovering the different angles and viewpoints of the matter.

Emily Dickinson likes to spur the reader's curiosity in her writings. Often, her love of mysterious, challenging symbolism brings a level of obscurity to her poems. In her poem, "I've Seen A Dying Eye," there is a lot of obscurity because of different writing techniques. Firstly, the poem is very compressed, so that she will say no more than she must. This suggests a quality of uncertainty. The words used to describe the scene also add to the obscurity. The eye in the poem is observed looking for something, and then becoming cloudier until it finally comes to rest. By using descriptions like this and words such as "seemed", Dickinson creates an atmosphere of night enshrouded in mist, as well as an element of doubt in the speaker's voice.

Dickinson's "I've Seen A Dying Eye " shows the uncertainty and uncontrollability which can attribute to Death. The observer in the poem is watching a dying person. The eye of the dying person is looking for something, but a fog begins to cloud his eye. With words like "run", a feeling of urgency is created. The dying person has no control over the clouds covering his eyes while he frantically searches through the room, hoping to find what he is looking for before the clouds completely cover him. Likewise, Death is an uncontrollable force. The dying person finally dies, leaving the observer of the death to question whether the dying person saw anything before his death, and if so whether it was hopeful or not.

From the start of the poem, it can be assumed that the eye is searching for evidence of life after death, but only the dying person knows for sure. When the eye of the dying finally begins to be " soldered down" it fails to let the observer know what it saw, if anything. As the dying person dies, he carries with him the answers. But at this point the observer seems envious of the corpse, as seen in the lines "Without disclosing what it be 'T were blessed to have seen." The observer wants to know the answers but the answers have been lost forever. By having this certain envy of the dead, we give Death a certain power over our lives. Because we spend our lives in uncertainty about Death, or lives become somewhat of a journey towards death. With the word "blessed" in the final line we can look optimistically to the answer to the question, or we can say that the dying person is now blessed because he now knows the answer to the life-long question. It seems as though Dickinson purposefully leaves the poem open-ended to keep that uncertainty alive.

In Emily Dickinson's "Parting," a similar voice of obscurity is present to that found in "I've Seen a Dying Eye." Once again, the narrator does not know whether there is another "event" after his or her present existence. This can be seen from the phrase "If Immortality unveil A third event to me." Here, though, a voice of tragic revelation is heard unlike that in the previous poem. The narrator here openly accepts the fact that he or she does not know the answers. Even more importantly, the narrator accepts the fact that the truth is "So huge, so hopeless to conceive." The narrator knows that this is something unknowable. But despite this tragic verse, the possibility still remains that there is more after this life.

In the poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Dickinson orders the stages of life to include death and eternity. She suggests the interconnected nature of the finite and infinite. From the viewpoint of eternity, the speaker recalls experiences that occurred centuries ago, but in order to relate the eternal world to temporal standards, she says that "Centuries" in eternity pass by "shorter than the Day" in finite time. Also, she represents Death as a kind and civil gentleman, and thus removes the fearsomeness from Death.

The merging of the material world with the spiritual one is seen in the lines "The Dews drew quivering and chill - For only Gossamer, my Gown-My Tippet-only Tulle-." In these lines the speaker's temporal existence, which allows her to quiver as she chilled by the 'Dew,' merges with the spiritual universe, as the speaker is attired I a 'Gown' and cape or 'Tippet,' made respectively of 'Gossamer,' a cobweb, and 'Tulle,' a kind of thin, open net-temporal coverings that suggest transparent, spiritual qualities.

By recalling different stages of life on earth, the speaker is able to settle her past on earth and also view all these things from a higher awareness, both literally and figuratively. Literally, because the carriage is rising up to heaven so the actual view of the ground is different, as seen in the line " a House that seemed A swelling of the Ground." Figuratively, the poem symbolizes the three stages of life: "the School, where Children strove" can represent old age. Looking at the development of these stages-from life, to death, to eternity-as a continuation of these events gives the life events meaning. From the Speaker's eternal perspective, she says that life leads "toward eternity."

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