What literary elements are used in Emily Dickinson's poem "There's been a Death in the Opposite House?''  

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary elements used in American poet Emily Dickinson's poem “There’s been a Death in the Opposite House” include the following:




A stanza is a poem unit. They’re typically “repeated in the same form--either with similar or identical patterns or rhyme and meter, or with variations from one stanza to another.” (McGraw Hill Learning Center – Glossary of Poetic Terms)


‘There’s been a Death in the Opposite House’ consists of seven stanzas. The stanzas vary, although most of them are four-line stanzas. However, stanza five is three lines and stanza six is only one line.


End rhyme


Emily Dickinson employs end rhyme in this poem. An example of end rhyme in the poem is in its very first stanza:


There’s been a Death, in the Opposite House,

As lately as Today —

I know it, by the numb look

Such Houses have — alway —


Notice that to achieve end rhyme in this stanza, Dickinson dropped the “s” from the last word of the final line of the stanza. It’s natural to want to read this line as “always”. Dropping the ‘s” achieves the goal of end rhyme and gives this particular stanza a finality – just like a cadence does in a music composition.




An example of Alliteration in the poem is in stanza two:


The Doctor — drives away —


The consonant “d” is repeated in fast succession in this short line. Alliteration adds a musical quality to a line as the consonants seem to effortlessly and elegantly roll of the tongue as the poem is read.




The tone of “There’s been a Death in the Opposite House” conveys the reflective, thoughtful thinking of the narrator of the poem. Tone is “the poet’s attitude toward his/her subject or readers. (http://www.bestlibrary.org/murrayslit/2009/09/poetic-devices.html; Mr. Murray’s Literature Page -Poetic Devices & Literary Terms Use In Poetry Analysis)


Emily Dickinson’s attitude towards the subject and reader is one of respect and of wanting to show readers what really occurs when there is a death in a neighborhood. Nonetheless, she does impart one thought of negativity when she talks of the undertaker/funeral home operator as “Of the Appalling Trade.” This shows her attitude toward this aspect of her subject.




The atmosphere of the poem is a touch downcast. Emily Dickinson is highlighting how a certain pall descends on a community when of its members dies – no matter what the age of the person. The community is experiencing a loss, and essentially, will never really be the same. The community will move on, cognizant that one of its own is gone. This will always be in the backs of the minds of people who in the future go by the house of the person who died.




Simile is a comparison of two things that are unalike. An example of simile in Dickinson’s poem is in the second stanza third line:


A Window opens like a Pod —


The poet is comparing a window to a Pod and the comparison word here is “like”.