Emily Dickinson Questions and Answers

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Comment on the theme of death in Emily Dickinson's poems?

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Emily Dickinson's theme of death in her poetry is three-fold:

In "I like a look of Agony," the speaker prefers death and suffering to its alternative, saying that "men do not sham Convulsion / Nor simulate, a Throe--".  In other words, death is the great equalizer: it elicits honesty, humility, and religious devotion.  Death is viewed as a necessary adjunct to life.

"I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--" shows that the speaker is not so sure that there is an afterlife.  The fly is a symbol of death and decay, a morbid reminder that the speaker will soon be worm food.  It also symbolizes a fear that death may be the end-all, that there is no spiritual transcendence or afterlife.  Death is viewed with fear here.

In "Because I could not stop for Death--" the speaker personifies Death as a gentleman carriage driver who shows her stages of her life.  Here, the speaker seems prepared to spend the rest of her life dead.  Together with Eternity, also personified, they travel to her grave--her final dwelling house.  Death is viewed with acceptance here.

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