Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson

Background:  Dickinson (Dec. 1, 1830 - May 15, 1886, Amherst. MA) was a U.S. lyric poet who has been called “the New England mystic” and who experimented with poetic rhythms and rhymes.  She lived much of her later life alone in her family home.  Almost all her poetry was published posthumously.  The subjects of Dickinson’s poems, expressed in intimate, domestic figures of speech, include love, death, and nature.  The contrast between her quiet, secluded life in the house in which she was born and died, and the depth and intensity of her terse poems, has provoked much speculation about her personality, personal relationships, and fundamental beliefs.  Over 1,700 of poems survive, and they reveal a passionate, witty woman and a scrupulous practitioner of the poetic craft.

What does the first sentence of “Death and Life” mean? (355)  Who is the “blond assassin”?  What is the significance of the word “unmoved”?  What does God (in the last line) have to do with anything in the poem?

What is Dickinson portraying in her poem “Dying”? (356)  What does the reference to the king mean?  What is meant by “signing away”?  Why does the fly come “with blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz”?  What is meant by “the windows failed”?  By not being able to “see to see”?

What is the chariot in the poem of that name? (357)  What is the chariot doing?  Why did “he knew no haste”?  Who is “he”?  Where did the pause “before a house that seemed / A swelling of the ground” take place?  What does it mean to “surmise the horses/ heads / Were toward eternity”?

What do these poems have to do with the theme of value and meaning?  Do they seem to uphold a positive (or negative) search for meaning?  Why?  What features of these texts support your judgment?