Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Altered Angles on Life

Emily Dickinson’s four poems “Success is Counted Sweetest--”, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant--”, “I heard a Fly buzz-- when I died,” and “Because I could not stop for Death--” all describe ordinary life events but in a different perception. The speaker offers a new light on how we normally view things like success, truth, and death.

“Success is Counted Sweetest--” tells us who knows the real meaning of success which may vary from what we have previously known. The people who have the most knowledge of success are the unsuccessful. Only they know the pleasure that comes from succeeding after failing many times. People who are simply victorious would not be able to express this same emotion. Since they have not experienced the pain of failure, they would not understand the extreme joy of winning.

In “Tell all the truth but tell it slant--”, Dickinson says that the truth all at once may come across as a bit of a shock. But if the truth is told piece by piece then it will be “as Lightening to the Children eased With explanation kind”. This is different from the conventional view of the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. She is not telling us to lie, but rather to tell the truth gradually. People will receive the truth in a more understanding way.

“I heard a Fly buzz--when I died” paints the scene of the speaker on her deathbed recounting her final moments. She is surrounded by her lamenting family and already signed off her possessions. In her dying moments, she notices a fly buzzing around the room. Dickinson portrays the speaker’s final moments as ordinary but then twists the focus onto the fly. Even though she is surrounded by people, it is the fly, an irrelevant part of her life, that is the final image in her head. Dickinson makes the point that in some of the most important parts of our life, we put too much focus on the little things and we neglect the significant things. We normally expect our dying moments to be reflections and memories of our lives. In this poem, the last thing the speaker sees and thinks about is a trivial, vexing fly.

In “Because I could not stop for Death--”, Dickinson personifies Death as a gentlemanly and courteous person. The speaker was to busy in her life and was not thinking about her mortality. Death comes by and she rides in its carriage. Before the speaker dies, she reflects on her life from childhood to adulthood. This poem opposes the view of death as something to be feared and avoided. Rather, this is about accepting death because it is just another part of life. Dickinson compares the grave to a house in one of her metaphors. A house is a warm, comforting place which is a direct opposite from the grave, a cold, frightening place. She uses this comparison to show the relationship between the living and the dead’s versions of ‘home’.

In each of her four poems, “Success is Counted Sweetest--”, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant--”, “I heard a Fly buzz-- when I died,” and “Because I could not stop for Death--”, Emily Dickinson depicts the ordinary aspects of human life with a novel and sometimes contrary view.

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