“My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close” was first published in Dickinson’s posthumous third collection, Poems by Emily Dickinson, third series, in 1896. Scholars do not know when it was written. The poem has also been published in some other anthologies under the name “ Parting.” Like much of Dickinson’s best work, this poem is simultaneously personal and universal. On a personal level, the poem’s speaker is telling of the losses he or she has suffered, so painful that they were like death itself. Though the speaker has not yet experienced real, physical death, he or she cannot bear to imagine anything that could be more terrible than the two deprivations already experienced. The speaker does not tell us what these losses were, but one might imagine some bereavement—the death of a loved one, the end of a passionate affair.
On a universal level, the poem poignantly describes the great tragedy of human life, for to be human is to suffer loss. In the final two lines of the poem, Dickinson creates a brilliant paradox, a statement that seems contradictory but might really be expressing a truth. Here heaven and hell, great symbolic opposites according to conventional wisdom, come together in their relationships to the word “parting.” If there is a heaven, all we know of it is that we must leave behind our loves and lives on this earth in order to enter there. At the same time, all human beings, to some degree, have known the misery of the private hell of separation and loss because that is an unavoidable part of human experience.