Emily it’s a testament to her good table

Emily Dickinson was a well-known poet of the mid-1800s whose numerous works have stood the test of time.

But what in the world did her poems really mean? In this video, we’ll explore one of her most recognized pieces and analyze its meaning and purpose.

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Emily Dickinson as a Poet

Who was Emily Dickinson? It’s a reasonable question for us to ask now, over a century after she died, but it’s really a question that people who knew her may have asked too. If you know anything about Emily Dickinson (and it’s cool if you don’t), you may know that she was a bit of a recluse. People in her hometown of Amherst, MA, generally thought her to be quite a weirdo because she rarely socialized and wore white clothing most of the time. I can’t wear white because I spill on it, so I say it’s a testament to her good table manners.Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Massachusetts and was one of the most prolific and inspired American poets of her time.

She was also one of the very few women poets of the 19th century, which is cool for her but lame for the 19th century. She wrote over 1,000 poems with various themes during her lifetime, but she had a few favorite themes that would pop up over and over again. Here, we’ll examine Dickinson’s life and some of her more well-known poems to see what makes her writing so unique.

Dickinson wrote more than 1,000 poems in her lifetime
imagery and metaphors that compare creatures and natural elements to ethereal or human aspects, she gives the reader an idea of how we and the world we live in are all interrelated, though sometimes not in the most positive way.

‘Because I Could Not Stop For Death’

To see how Dickinson sees death and religion, we’re going to take a look at one of her more famous poems, which begins with the phrase ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death.’ Dickinson didn’t actually title this poem, but we know it from its first line, so that’s what we’re going to call it.

Okay, let’s read the whole poem:Because I could not stop for Death,He kindly stopped for me;The carriage held but just ourselvesAnd Immortality.We slowly drove, he knew no haste,And I had put awayMy labor, and my leisure too,For his civility.We passed the school, where children stroveAt recess, in the ring;We passed the fields of grazing grain,We passed the setting sun.Or rather, he passed us;The dews grew quivering and chill,For only gossamer my gown,My tippet only tulle.We paused before a house that seemedA swelling of the ground;The roof was scarcely visible,The cornice but a mound.Since then ’tis centuries, and yet eachFeels shorter than the dayI first surmised the horses’ headsWere toward eternity.Sounds pretty, right? Though this poem is longer than the other one we looked at, you can still see those short, quick lines and the evidence of slant rhyme – think about how ‘day’ kind of rhymes with ‘eternity,’ but not really.

Now let’s take a look at what’s actually happening in the poem. What’s going on here is that the narrator is dying. Let’s revisit it.She’s traveling along into eternity with death and viewing the different phases of life as she does it. First she sees kids playing at recess and grain growing – all young, happy images of living things. Next she sees the setting sun and dew and evening – indications that maybe things are starting to draw to a close.

And then she sees a fallen-down house that’s really more of a grave, possibly the narrator’s grave. Basically, it’s an indication of the end of things. But they don’t stop at the grave; that’s what’s interesting. They continue on into immortality because the grave may be the final resting place for her body, but it’s not the last stop for her spirit.The whole ride is pretty much imagery of the narrator’s life passing before her eyes as she journeys on into death.

But it’s not really a sad thing. It’s chilly maybe, but it’s peaceful, the company isn’t bad and the character knows she’s heading toward her eternal rest, where centuries will seem like mere seconds. In this poem, death really isn’t upsetting; it’s nothing to be feared. She shows that it’s gradual and gentle, and there’s no need to be afraid. More than that, Dickinson implies that death is just a means of carrying your soul on to a better, more eternal place – a necessary carriage ride into the hereafter. In short, death may suck sometimes, but it’s really worth it in the end.

‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ is one of the many poems that deal with the idea of immortality, another recurring theme in Dickinson’s poetry.

Lesson Summary

Let’s put this all together: what do we know about Emily Dickinson? She was an American poet who lived and wrote in the 19th century. She wrote over 1,000 poems on a variety of subjects but is commonly known for focusing on death, immortality and nature. Her poems were unlike many others written at the time because they rarely had titles; they often contained short lines; they frequently employed slant rhyme, or lines that only sort of rhyme, like pop singers who think it’s okay to rhyme ‘crazy’ with ‘baby’ – that’s neither here nor there.

As a person, Emily Dickinson was a mystery to those around her, and she still is one to us today, but her poetry is widely considered some of the most important American literature, and we’re really lucky to have it.

Lesson Outcome

This video will help you to be able to:

  • Discuss who Emily Dickinson was and how she was perceived in her time
  • Explain the type of poetry and rhyme that Emily Dickinson used
  • Discuss the themes of her poetry
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