Identity And Ideology Beyond Death In Emily Dickinson's Poem “I Died For Beauty”

1646 words - 7 pages

Emily Dickinson had a fascination with death and mortality throughout her life as a writer. She wrote many poems that discussed what it means not only to die, but to be dead. According to personal letters, Dickinson seems to have remained agnostic about the existence of life after death. In a letter written to Mrs. J. G. Holland, Emily implied that the presence of death alone is what makes people feel the need for heaven: “If roses had not faded, and frosts had never come, and one had not fallen here and there whom I could not waken, there were no need of other Heaven than the one below.” (Bianchi 83). Even though she was not particularly religious, she was still drawn to the mystery of the afterlife. Her poetry is often contemplative of the effect or tone that death creates, such as the silence, decay, and feeling of hopelessness. In the poem “I died for beauty,” Dickinson expresses the effect that death has on one's identity and ability to impact the world for his or her ideals.

I have heard people say that Emily Dickinson used dashes whenever she could not find the words to fully express what she meant. While this is true in one sense, it is preposterous in another. Dickinson's careful and clever choice of words does not seem to be consistent with someone who would simply enter a dash once at a loss for words. Punctuation is a necessary tool for all writers to create an effect that words alone can not. In “I died for beauty,” the dashes force the reader to pause at certain moments to intensify the suspense and sheer gravitas of what is being said. For example, in the opening line “I died for Beauty—but was scarce,” there is no word that could be placed in this line to more strongly convey the narrator's death for beauty to the reader. The dash forces one to pause between segments of thought in the sentence to fully ascertain the concept that the narrator is now a corpse that has passed the end of his or her mortality and that it was (in some way) for beauty. Beauty is even capitalized in the sentence to stress its importance. By punctuation, one cannot as easily rush through this line without feeling the weight of it. Therefore, I believe it is because Dickinson had found the words to fully express what she meant that she used dashes to intensify their impression on the reader.

The narrator of this poem seems to be Dickinson herself. Dickinson's poetry about death is often imaginative of what it would be like to die, (as in “I heard a fly buzz”). It seems unnecessary for her to create a fictional narrator for her poems that are not about the narrator so much as they are about the situations of the narrator. Also, there is no evidence to indicate the “I” referring to a person other than Dickinson herself. In “I died for Beauty,” Dickinson begins by imagining her own death. The opening line does not tell us how the author has died, but attempts to explain why. That she died for beauty could mean one of a number of things. The “for” could...

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