Providing specific examples, explain how Dickinson uses imagery, figurative language, syntax, and diction in her poem "It Feels a Shame to be Alive."

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This poem was written by Emily Dickinson during the American Civil War. Its syntax—that is, the structure of the sentences and the arrangement of the words—is similar to that of Dickinson's other poems, relying heavily upon the characteristic long dash to break up sentences which do not use other punctuation. Like all of Dickinson's poems, then, a certain halting quality results from this, which gives a sense that the poet is speaking the words aloud, the thoughts developing even as she speaks them. This gives a sense of immediacy, as if the poem represents the genuine and uppermost thoughts and feelings of the poet.

The imagery used in this poem is quite varied. First, Dickinson personifies the "distinguished dust" which will provide the resting place for the soldiers killed in the Civil War, a phrase which underscores the honor of the soldiers, and suggests that Dickinson holds them in high esteem. Later, she alludes to "Spartans." The Spartans were a race of Greek warriors known for their extreme commitment to battle and their particular skill in war, so again, this creates a sense that Dickinson highly esteems the soldiers who have fallen.

Later, Dickinson uses a metaphor to describe life as a "pearl." This suggests that life is something beautiful and of great value, but not indestructible—the pearl of life can be "dissolved" in the "bowl" of "battle." This image is a vivid one, and war is presented as an agent of destruction which can eradicate all traces of the most beautiful and precious thing: human life.

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