Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems

Death and Grief in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson College

The tradition of elaborate mourning was already a burgeoning custom in the 19th century but it was Queen Victoria's public mourning of her beloved Prince Albert's death that popularized the customary funereal rituals practiced throughout the mid-to-late Victorian era. Because mortality rates were exceptionally high during this time, especially in children, death was meant to be something with which to become familiarized since it was a natural part of the progression of life.

In the schoolhouse, the popular McGuffey Readers taught children not to fear death because the afterlife awaiting them is far greater than any life lived on Earth (Gordon, p.2). In what is arguably Emily Dickinson's most famous poem, "Because I could not stop for Death," the complete first stanza gives characterization to the Victorian attitude toward death. The poem begins, "Because I could not stop for Death-/He kindly stopped for me-/The Carriage held but just Ourselves'/And Immortality" ("Because I could not", ll. 1-4). Dickinson is ironically "humanizing" death by using the capital "D" when introducing death. Here, she is giving him an identity almost as if he were simply a man named "Death." The character of Death is kind and patient, content to wait...

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