What is the best poem to end our Emily Dickinson Month with? Should this be a poem that reflects her love for nature? Should this be a poem about immortality or something divine? We decided that the poem It was not Death, for I stood up should be the last poem that is part of tribute to this great American poetess.
Poem 355 doesn’t sound just as right as It was not Death for I stood up. This is no different from any other Dickinson poem. She found titles to be less important. Most of the titles were the result of editorial changes after she died.
On this last day of 2017, we remember those who have departed during the year that is almost over. This is a difficult time for some of us. Death has a great impact on everyone’s lives. When losing a loved one, this can be a traumatic experience.
This is not just any poem about death. This is an intense ballad about death. Dickinson wrote words that reflect the state of hopelessness. In a way, this is nothing more than depression. We can now assume, that at some period in her adult life, Dickinson was suffering from depression. Based on her mood, she did not leave her family house for most of her adult life. She was tormenting with life and this poem reflects her struggle. Although, she doesn’t name her condition in this poem.
She starts with explaining what she is not. Or rather: what she is not suffering from. It is safe to assume that she was in her room, on her bed. At noon (the Bells / Put out their Tongues, for Noon). By writing these words, one can assume that she is not in touch with the reality of day and night. This is common for those who suffer from depression.
An important clue to what is going on lies in the last word of this poem: Despair. We see words like these in other of her poems such as I felt a funeral in my brain. That poem is all about losing yourself and becoming insane.
A state of despair; losing hope or giving up on hope. This was an important subject in the period Dickinson lived. People saw a world that was changing. Things that were considered to be divine could be explained, with the help of science. The (First) Industrial Revolution caused people to feel alienated from the world they lived in. Even in a small town in Massachusetts (Amherst), these changes may well be felt as a burden for some.
In the churches, people learned about despair as well. Church sermons in New England were based on the Puritan teachings. Despair is essential, some believed, in order to fully obtain the grace of God and learn to appreciate this.
Too much of anything, that is not good. That is what Dickinson brings forward. There is also a thing as too much despair. One can no longer see the divinity or even beauty. Is that what happened to Dickinson at one point in her life?
Is there no solution? In the last part of the poem, Dickinson brings forward that moment when time seems to stand still amongst this chaos. This is the despair she fears the most: that moment when chaos takes over and it muffles all that is supposed to be good about despair (according to the Puritan teachings).
It was not Death, for I stood up
It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down –
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.
It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos – crawl –
Nor Fire – for just my marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool –
And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial
Reminded me, of mine –
As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ’twas like Midnight, some –
When everything that ticked – has stopped –
And space stares – all around –
Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground –
But most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –
Without a Chance, or spar –
Or even a Report of Land –
To justify – Despair.
This poem is one dramatic salute to this great poetess. During the last month of 2017, we published as many poems and backgrounds stories as we could. This has been an honour for us to do! We are the online poetry magazine, that supports and promotes poetry. Not only of those who are publishing their work today but also these great minds such as Emily Dickinson.