How is death used as a theme in Emily Dickinson's poems?

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Death is a major theme in many of Dickinson's poems.  As some have noted, Dickinson is a poet of the interior life; she almost never mentions anything going on in the outside world, the world of politics, the world of sociology.  She has several different and interesting poems about death.  Perhaps the best known is "I heard a fly buzz when I died."  One of the odd things is that the author is writing the poem after he/she is dead.  (She does the same thing in "Because I could not stop for death.")  In some ways it's a horrible poem.  In the most significant "event" in a person's life, in the moment where we might expect the angels to come for our souls, this person is greeted by a fly.  Flies are often associated with carrion; they are annoying; they are certainly not what most of us would like to be surrounded by on our deathbeds.  Flies are also associated with Beelzebub, Satan's chief lieutenant in Hell ... the "Lord of the Flies."  Is the fly the horrible alternative to the angel?

"Because I could not stop for death" presents another, more accepting view of death.  Despite her/our business with the things of life, even if you cannot stop for death, he will "kindly" stop for her.  In this poems, she travels slowly toward eternity, passing experiences in her life until she arrives at her tomb, which she calls a "house."  There is none of the horror of the previous poem, just a great sense of inevitability.  And I am out of words ....