1. A biographical note: Emily
Dickinson (1830-86) was born into a proper New England family in Amherst,
MA. Although she spent her seventeenth year a few miles away, at
Mount Holyoke Seminary, in the next twenty years (1847-67) she left Amherst
only five or six times, and in her last twenty years (1867-86) she may
never have left her house.
2. A letter Dickinson wrote
around the time she wrote "I Heard..."
A. Basing yourself on these pieces of information, why do you think
Emily Dickinson is so concerned with death?
"...I had a terror--since September--I could tell to none--and
so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground--because I am afraid--...When
a little Girl, I had a friend, who taught me Immortality--but venturing
too near, himself--he never returned--Soon after, my Tutor, died--and
for several years, my Lexicon--was my only companion--Then I found one
more--but he he was not contented I be his scholar--so he left the Land."
3. Other info. about her
life and personality:
By the age of thirty she was retreating to her room when old
friends called and listening to their voices from upstairs. The next
year she inaugurated the habit of dressing exclusively in white that she
was to maintain for the rest of her life. The same year she begged
her Boston cousins to take her place at a commencement tea at her home
because she felt too "hopeless and scared" to face to visitors.
What he told his wife of Emily Dickinson caused her to refer
to Emily as "insane," and he himself wrote that he considered her "partially
cracked." "I never was with anyone who drained my nerve power so
much...without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live
Emily and Sue and Austin
p. 256 In her unconscious fantasy Austin's sexual possession
of Susan represented the consummation of the erotic element in the relationship
of the two women. ...Also the poet's love for Austin contained unconscious
erotic elements derived partly by displacement of heh infantile longing
for her father, which arose with compensatory force when her mother
symptoms before her nervous breakdown
depression, anxiety, estrangement, avoidance of gratification,
extraction of pleasure from privation, preoccupation with death, withdrawal
from social intercourse, agoraphobia, fear of loss of emotional control,
preternatural awareness of the mind's unconscious depths...weakness of
ego boundaries, and night fears.....(261-62)
B. From these two poems (written respectively in 1862 and 1863),
can you try to analyze the poet's view about death?
Dickinson and Death
[Freud's view of death:
Though recognizing the certainty and inevitability of death, the ego
nevertheless strives to circumvent the irrevocability of mortality
by assuring itself that life can be preserved against the inevitability
of dissolution. Thus the fear of annihilation, much like the fear
of separation, is one of the most basic primal anxieties in forming human
existence. It elicits a massive gesture towards self-preservation
in an effort to conquer or at least to control death.]
Emily Dickinson's Death theme
T. Ford. "One of the major reasons for her interest in death,
then, was its close relation with religion, as she viewed it. The
relationship between death and religion became for her, in fact, a circular
one. Her basic feeling about immortality were ones of doubt and apprehension."
The death theme owed its burgeoning to many springs.
Dickensen's presentation of death:
1) New England puritanism and 19th-c romanticism were both obsessed
2) the omnipresence of death--the many fatal diseases
3) a. fear of abandonment
b. projection of anger
Unloved by her mother, abandoned by her girl friends, devalued
as a female, discouraged in her literary aspirations, importuned to accept
a religion that offered her no haven, she felt herself a seething volcano.
c. guilt over Emily's rejection of her mother
--the juxtaposition of the concrete with the abstract, the homey with
the heavenly, the housefly with eternity.
Death--cold; as a lover and a bridegroom; as a king, a tyrant or some
kind of royalty; as a democrat, an equalizer, a leveler; associated with
sleep, night or darkness; equated with parting or separation; Death personified