Poems of Emily Dickinson

Start Free Trial

How do you analyze Emily Dickinson's "The Bustle in a House"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Emily Dickinson has written many poems which use the first line as the title, such as The Bustle in the House. Her style, especially in this poem, then ensures that her poetry, which does not adhere to the usual poetry rules of meter and rhythm, has its own natural flow, particularly important when discussing many of life's inevitabilities, such as death.

The title of The Bustle in the House is an unusual title for a poem that discusses death, although Dickinson does admit that, in these circumstances, it is "the solemnest of industries." The combination of these words (bustle and solemnest) creates a contradictory situation, a paradox. A bustle suggests a busy environment; the comings-and-goings of a lot of people; noise, sometimes excitement and perhaps, nervous energy; certainly nothing solemn. The visual picture that the reader is then presented with indicates the confusion anyone may feel after someone dies when there are so many things to organize, necessitating an unwelcome busy-ness or "bustle" and then there is the reality of the situation and the imminent sadness to follow which, in this poem, is purposefully avoided. 

Dickinson has used capital letters to ensure that the reader emphasizes key words and phrases and understands the effects of being the person or family members who need to "Bustle in a House;" that is, those left behind on the "Morning after Death." They have lost a loved one and need to hide their feelings by "Sweeping up the Heart," and by "putting Love away." Capitalizing these words (heart and love) and referring to "We" ensures that the reader can empathize as he or she may have felt the same way at some point. Love is a profound emotion but it no longer has a use because of this death. This is an attempt to be matter-of-fact in dealing with emotions, numbing the pain.     

Capitalizing earth at the end of the first verse and eternity at the end of the second creates a link between those left behind on earth and any loved one. It gives anyone who has lost a loved one hope by using the collective "We;" hope that this is not a final farewell. There will be a need to recollect and induce that "Love," eventually.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poem is simple but sincere and profound, and makes the point that even after someone dies life must go on.

There is a melancholy tone to “The Bustle After Death,” with words like “Death,” “solemnest” and “eternity” reinforcing the sadness.  There is also a juxtaposition between ordinary and even friendly words like “Bustle” that seem to contradict the tone.  Dickinson is reminding us that death does not stop life for the rest of us.

Diction refers to word choice, and the choice of “Bustle” is certainly an interesting one.

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death

Is solemnest of industries

The word “bustle” is usually used to refer to activity, but it is a happy activity.  It is ironic to use the term to refer to a solemn activity like cleaning up after someone has died.  Also, note that Dickinson has capitalized the word, as well as the words "House," "Morning" and "Death."  This directs the reader to the contradiction and makes the reader stop and pause.

When a loved one dies, we sometimes have to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on. Dickenson captures that strange feeling in this poem.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial