These are interpretive questions. Please add quotations when answering the questions and detail your answers.

1. In his poem "Memento Mori," Billy Collins uses a simile to compare a lamp to an "old servant" who will join the "small circle of mourners" at his funeral. Why does he make this comparison? What does it suggest about his view of his death?

2. In "Because I could not stop for Death –," Emily Dickinson writes, "He kindly stopped for me." What or—more aptly—who is Dickinson comparing death to? What does this comparison suggest about her attitude toward death?

3. Many of the lines in Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –" deal with the serious, spiritual aspects of dying. The fly is an interpretation of a somber, spiritual scene, during which the speaker is giving away her "Assignable" portion. This interruption is important in that it leads the speaker to feel "uncertain." Given the final lines of the poem, what is the speaker "uncertain" about?

4. When the speaker of "I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –" says that "the Windows failed," it's clear that she's not talking about literal windows; she's using a metaphor. What do you think "the Windows" stand for? Why is this an appropriate metaphor?

5. Like a few of the other poets we will read in this unit, Dylan Thomas refers to death as "that good night." Why do you think night is such a common metaphor for death? Why do you think Thomas calls death a "good night," especially since he is urging his audience to resist it?

6. If Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" is an extended metaphor for death, what does apple-picking represent? And what, then, is the significance of lines 27–31?

For I have had too muchOf apple-picking: I am overtiredOf the great harvest I myself desired.There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

Expert Answers

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1. Collins compares the lamp to an old servant because he has likely used it many times, its light helping him read or write at nighttime. He explains that everyday objects, like the lamp, remind him of his mortality. While the lamp might be old, it will nevertheless outlive the speaker. This suggests that the speaker views death as an inevitable fact of reality. It doesn’t seem to disturb or bother him; his comical vision of the personified lamp “waddling across the cemetery” to his burial underscores his acceptance of death as a matter-of-fact conclusion.

2. The personified Death in Dickinson’s poem is a gentlemanly suitor who takes the speaker for a leisurely carriage ride. He “kindly” stops to pick her up, and the carriage holds “just Ourselves.” She even remarks upon his “Civility.” This comparison suggests that death is somewhat alluring to the speaker. She is enchanted with the calm kindness with which Death treats her, which indicates a kind of embrace of...

(The entire section contains 637 words.)

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