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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

17 Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Great! Good for coursework

  2. Kay Lies says:

    I got the analysis from the following source:
    iheardaflybuzzwhenidied.wordpress.com

    The narrator’s ratiocination of her emotional landscape forms the argument of this poem as she persists in establishing an understanding of her anguish or “it” with imagery relating to death, darkness, cold and heat.
    The narrator ruminates upon her present psychological frame of mind as she logically eliminates possible states of being (being dead, in night, in winter, being burnt by fire) that could account for her emotions. Her reasoning is as below: She is not dead as she could stand and the dead could not. The darkness that swallows her up is not night as she could hear the afternoon bells “put(ting) out their tongues”/ringing. The coldness that she felt is not “frost” as she could feel “siroccos” (A hot, dry wind ) ‘crawl on her flesh’. The heat or burning sensation is not ‘fire’ for her “marble (cold) feet” could keep cool the passionate choir singing and warm-blooded clergy preaching.
    Yet, she “taste them all”- the agony of death, darkness and the extremes of coldness and heat. She is reminded of her own death by the ‘figures’ she has seen getting prepared for burial in which she imagined herself to be, too, imprisoned in the frame of a coffin and getting ready for burial “shaven” of all things merry and “fitted to a frame” rigid, confined and “could not breathe without a key”. The key in this case might be the freedom in contrast to her confinement, hope in contrast to the death of hope, understanding in contrast to the lack of understanding of her current state of being. And in extension of the imagery of darkness, she pictures herself as very dead of the night/midnight- being in infinite darkness.
    When time stops and isolation in which she feels small with “space” “staring all around” sets in. Or the desolation she felt with the macabre “frost”/ice and the leaves from “first autumn mornings” that “repeals” /cover and eliminates the “beating ground”; A feeling that smothers her beating heart. But finally, she concludes that it is mostly like being in a state of evolutionary, chaotic flux, “stopless” and “cool”; like being in the endless and cold sea after a psychological shipwreck in which nothing , “a chance” or “spar” (a strong pole used for a mast) or “report of land” could save her; not even a shimmer of hope in finding her “key”.

  3. angie says:

    everybody here are a bunch of idiots.she is reffering to death.explaining how it feels.

  4. Abi says:

    Oh, okay okay, I get it now! So she’s talking about how sad she is to see all the dead around her, and she’s describing the feeling inside her by saying what it isn’t but feels almost like. For instance: “It was not Death, for I stood up,” but other than that, it could’ve been death. Does that make sense? Thx for the help!

  5. Estella OldHam says:

    THIS IS THE BEST POEM EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Julio says:

    This poem talks about how the speaker felt when she was having an illness and can’t describe it you jackasses!!!

  7. Laura says:

    I think this poem is about how you feel like you have died when someone close to you dies. Your life is no longer complete “shaven away”…everything stops. you watch your life go by but YOU aren’t really in it or experiencing it

  8. Stephanie says:

    Chancel is actually the part of the church that contains the choir and sanctuary.

  9. Brittney says:

    You are all wrong. This poem was written in 1862. This is the same year that Reverend Wadsworth moved away with his wife to L.A. Her greatest works of poetry were written during this year, and most were written about him. (Wadsworth was the man she fell in love with). It is describing the kind of death that she experienced when he left. She knows she’s not dead because she cand “stand” and the dead “lie down”, she is not cold with “frost” because in chancel (a type of shawl)she feels warmth. She describes later that a part of her life or a part of her has been “shaven” away. This again refering to Wadsworth. She is “fitted to a frame” or confined and alone. Then goes on to say that he is the “key” to her life or “breath”. Compares the way she feels to a cold, still, dark night. She feels this way even though “the bells put out their tongues, for noon”. In the last stanza it is refering to his trip to L.A. by ocean. “Chaotic” because she cannot stop him (“stopless”). cool- water. without change- middle of ocean… spar, ocean water… no report of land, cannot see him, does not know where he is, etc. And this in her justifies “despair”. Even though she feels as if she could die, or is experiencing all of these death like feelings– she is still living, life will continue, tomorrow will come.

  10. christa says:

    excuss me henry and matt this poem does not agravate by emily being a lesbian nack in the 19th centrury i don’t think they even had that word and i do not thing it means food either, i think this poem reprecents how people she has been really close to her have died and she is expressing how she feels about it and what her expresiom about heaven and what she thinks of it.

  11. Jolene says:

    This poem is her description of the certainty of death. I think it is beautiful because she presents her fear instead of supressing it like that of human nature. She not only describes her fear os despair and death but she kind of picks it apart. In the sense that she is already dead because it is going to happen anyways intrigues me, like it is going to happen so I am going to treat it like it already has.

  12. courtney says:

    i’m sure this is an amazing poem, but IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Todd Victor Leone says:

    NOT “Without a change, or Spar –”
    but instead, “Without a chance, or Spar –”

    “Change” doesn’t make sense

  14. Todd Victor Leone says:

    No one has ever captured in words the experience of despair as well Dickinson did in this poem — it’s simply brilliant.

  15. Amber says:

    Btw Beth, i dont think henry was meaning anything bad when he said she was craving another woman. Anyways, Emily’s peoms are so brilliant. She seems so sad sometimes.

  16. Beth Randon says:

    Kdkdu….LOSERS! The syllable arrangement in the poem is of extreme measures. And by the way, Henry Ford, I am a lesbian and I do not appreciate your insensitive remarks toward my sexual tendencies.

  17. Matt Bronson says:

    this poem is about food. Dickinson is craving a nice jelly donut. She is going to die if she doesn’t get a jelly donut

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