Dickinson #389 Emily Dickinson (#389) The speaker in Dickinsons poem is noticeably outside the main action of the poem. The first line makes that clear: Theres been a Death, in the Opposite House. Dickinson creates a patchwork story that the reader and speaker create through Dickinsons poem, based on outside clues and speculation. In Dickinsons poem, each stanza has a central focus; the focus is an action or an image, each one providing more certainty to the belief that there has been a death. These images and actions lead up to the eventual, haunting realization that there will be a funeral procession. Dickinson also cleverly plays with words, puns, and sound associations.
The attitude and emphasis of her poem comes as the poem builds, surprising offering no comfort on the subject of death at the end. In Dickinsons poem, the death seems to have just occurred, perhaps an hour or twoat the very least As lately as Today. In Dickinsons poem, the actions of the characters appear to be the more immediate concerns of postmortemairing out the house, discarding the mattress of the deceased, etc. Dickinsons poem is somber. The very list of characters that come and go and hurry by the death house is something not unlike the funeral procession that Dickinson alludes to near the end of her poem, as the Dark Parade.
The neighbors are first to arrive, second only to the immediate family, whose members are surely already inside. Then the Doctor comes and goes, followed by the removal of the mattress (maybe there are germs on the mattress). At this point, the person is finally dead, and those people who were not as close to the person can now join in this procession of visitation. The somber tone comes through in some of the word choices as well. The house itself has a numb look to it. The mortician, or perhaps the coffin-maker, is described as belonging to the Appalling Trade.
The pall in Appalling sounds like pallbearer. What is consistent in the tone of the poem is the idea of death as a looming figure. There has been a Death, to be sure, but the speaker does not know this from first hand experience; the speaker can tell by the look of the house itself. The speaker wonders, like the boys, how the death occurred. The signs make it clear that there has, in fact, been a death, and it occurs to the speaker that a funeral procession will soon follow. This realization is stated with a sense of dread and excitement, and this sense is heightened by the fact that the line is set apart from the otherwise regular four-line stanzas.
Dickinson abruptly goes from talking about the present to talking about the future. There has been a death, but the speaker seems preoccupied, not with what has been, but what will be. The humor in Dickinsons poem, if one could call it humor, is sublime, dry. Perhaps a better way to describe these moments would be as play. There are a couple of occasions where the mind can be made to believe that there are alternate ways to read what is an otherwise straightforward poem.
One of these is the stanza about the minister. The Ministergoes stiffly in is an obvious pun; the term stiff is associated with a corpse. Another moment of play comes when the undertakers (or coffin-makers) visit is described as his taking measure of the house. Measure is being taken of the inhabitants demeanors, or of the corpse itself, so that a casket can be crafted. Still, the overall mood of the poem is consistentsomber and looming.
The final line of the poem does impart a bit of comfort to the poem; In just a country town does lend itself to a reading of comfort and familiarity. In a small town the inhabitants can recognize the death of a neighbor by reading the clues on the street. This doesnt make one feel any better about the death. Comfort for Dickinson is in the form of easily discernible signs of deatheasy as a Sign, she writes. But the idea that these signs are Intuition of the News implies threatening news. The speaker knows what the news is, but the news itself conjures dark and appalling thoughts. The final thoughts of the speaker negative.
In the end, Dickinsons poem has a tone that one would expect to feel in a poem about death in the home. The last line is eerie, as if the country town is insignificantas if the death is insignificant because the importance in the poem lies in the future procession and not the death that has just occurred. This is unusual, because most poems on death seek to offer comfort or create some emotion about death. Here, the death of a human is abandoned to explore the unemotional actions that happen after death. Dickinson does not write of mourning, but of the practical tasks that must be done. She focuses on the formal and the exterior parts of death.
Bibliography none Poetry and Poets.