Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 589
The poem begins with a powerful statement: The speaker’s life has already “closed” two times. Here, the use of the verb “closed” might be inter- preted in two ways. One meaning might be “finished or concluded,” but another could be “closed on all sides; shut in.” Either or both meanings seem appropriate, inasmuch as Dickinson ’s poetry is often concerned with both the theme of death and the theme of isolation. “Before its close” most likely means “before its conclusion,” or before that final closing act of every life—the concrete, physical death of the body.
In these lines, the speaker expresses concern about what the future might hold. The poem’s speaker, having already suffered two life “closes,” is left to deal with whatever will happen next. “Immortality” is the only capitalized word in the poem which does not fall at the beginning of a line. One might have expected her to use the word “Mortality,” as that is the way that most people talk about the end of life, but the use of “Immortality” shows the spiritual depth of the poem’s speaker. “Immortality,” or endless life, is a sacred mystery that may or may not “unveil,” or reveal, a third and final “close” to the speaker. There is a certain tone of courage in these lines, perhaps the courage that enables people to go on living in spite of overwhelming losses.
In these lines, the speaker wonders if the next “event,” if it ever occurs, could possibly be as “huge” and as “hopeless to conceive” as the two “events” or “closes,” that have already happened. Here, “huge” is probably used in the sense of one of its synonyms, “tremendous,” meaning capable of making one tremble. “Hopeless to conceive” indicates impossible to imagine. In other words, the speaker knows that there is no way to prepare for the next, perhaps inevitable, “close.” In addition, the speaker cannot imagine that anything, even death, could be more unbearable than what has already happened. Though most people know that grief and loss are an unavoidable part of the human experience, there is no way to really prepare for it before it happens.
The word “parting” is a clue to the meaning of “closed” and “close” in the first quatrain of the poem. Like most of the words Dickinson uses, “parting” is rich with meanings. On one level, it means departure or leave-taking. In this sense, when the speaker’s life “closed,” it might have been because of some terrible separation from a loved one—relative, lover, or friend. On another level, “parting” is used as a euphemism for the act or time of dying. In this sense, the mysterious, unavoidable “close” which the speaker awaits is the permanent separation that occurs at the end of life. “Heaven” and “hell,” traditionally characterized as extreme opposites, meet each other on earth in the context. When a loved one is lost to death, people comfort themselves with a faith that the deceased is “in heaven;” however, no one knows this to be true. All that is concrete and tangible about the afterlife is the separation of the living and the dead. On the other hand, though there are many interpretations of what “hell” is in various religions, it is universally understood that hell is somehow the absence, or separation from, God and love. On earth, the word “hell” is used to describe anything that causes great torment and anguish, such as the loss of love.