Emily Dickinson’s Poem It Was Not Death

584 words - 2 pages

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “It Was Not Death”, Dickinson is stuck in a mental state of hopelessness and despair which she cannot define nor understand. As Dickinson does not know the cause of her anguish, she begins the poem by referring to her condition with an unidentified “it”, and throughout the poem she is trying to make sense of this “it”. The poem is written in ballad meter as it consists of four line stanzas that contain alternate lines of iambic tetrameter followed by iambic trimeter.

In both the first and second stanza, Dickinson is trying to make sense of her feelings by eliminating the different possibilities of her current mental state. She uses specific details in order to make these images clear to the reader: Dickinson is standing up, so these feelings cannot be that of death; bells are ringing to signify mid-day, hence the darkness surrounding her cannot be a result of night; the cold she is experiencing is not physical because she can also feel siroccos, which is a hot, dry wind that blows from northern Africa across southern Europe, on her skin; nor can the heat she is suffering be physical because she claims that her feet would be able to keep a chancel cold. These stanzas are given structure by the constant use of “it was not” so as to identify that these feelings are not actually happening to her.

In the third stanza, Dickinson brings all of the images from the previous stanzas together by stating how her condition feels so much like all of them. Since she experiences every one of these states at once, they have combined and are now indistinguishable in her mind, giving a sense of chaos to her mental state. Dickinson...

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