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It was not Death, for I stood up

It was not Death, for I stood up

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It was not Death, for I stood up

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  1. Hey! Guess What? Emily’s talking about death again! It was not Death, for I stood up 12th February 2014

  2. 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 Sirocos—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.

  3. What is ‘It’? Dickinson is unclear at this stage. Instead she tells us what it isn’t. She then clarifies WHY it isn’t death – because she can stand whereas dead people lie. 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. She uses repetition to help clarify her ideas. She personifies the bells – their tongues are both their ‘clappers’ and their sound.

  4. The repetition continues… but we are no nearer understanding what ‘It’ is. The Sirocco is a hot dry wind so she cannot feel either cold or heat, suggesting that she still lives. It was not Frost, for on my Flesh I felt Sirocos—crawl— Nor Fire—for just my Marble feet Could keep a Chancel, cool— Marble is often seen as a cold stone. This contrasts with the warmth of her flesh in the previous two verses. A chancel is part of a church – often cold and unwelcoming so her cold feet obviously were exceptionally cold.

  5. So, whatever it is, it is a combination of all the things she has looked at so far - death, night, hot or cold. A return to the synaesthesia we saw in ‘I felt a funeral…’? And yet, it tasted, like them all, The Figures I have seen Set orderly, for Burial, Reminded me, of mine— This is a very bleak image – she is considering bodies set out for funerals. Are we getting to grips with what the original ‘it’ might be? Her body is as cold and dead as the dead ones she sees. Therefore, whatever ‘it’ is has taken any life from her.

  6. Everything is exposed – she has no method of concealment. In other words, her emotions are laid bare. The suggestion of life being ‘shaven’ gives the idea that much of life that is positive has been removed. As if my life were shaven, And fitted to a frame, And could not breathe without a key, And 'twas like Midnight, some— Ah, we seem to be on to something! She is searching for a key that will allow her to understand her feelings and be human, it will restore her emotions so we are clearly looking at some emotional turmoil. Darkness seems to be enveloping her. This is a common representation of despair or depression. (cf Churchill’s ‘black dog’)

  7. A great image! This ties into the midnight idea in the previous stanza, suggesting it as a moment when time stands still. The dashes help emphasise the pause here. When everything that ticked—has stopped— And Space stares all around— Or Grisly frosts—first Autumn morns, Repeal the Beating Ground— There is the emptiness/ loneliness of despair suggested by this empty space. Throughout this verse there is the sense that she can see no end to her feelings. Everything is frozen – there is no heartbeat or life left. Why are frosts ‘grisly’? Think about the time she suggests.

  8. Throughout this verse there is an overwhelming sense of emptiness (chaos) which inhabits her life. She can see no way out. An interesting way to suggest there is no end to her emotional turmoil. But, most, like Chaos—Stopless—cool— Without a Chance, or Spar— Or even a Report of Land— To justify—Despair. A spar is like a mast or pole used to help control a ship and keep it on an even course. Finally, we get a name for the ‘It’ from verse one – despair. This is all she feels. However, her feelings are paradoxical – she cannot justify feeling despair as she sees no hope of rescue or alternative so therefore despair is just the way she is. This develops the sailing imagery – there is no sign of land, nowhere where she might find salvation/rescue from her emotions.

  9. Summary • Is this the most depressed we have found Dickinson so far? She sees no end to her despair. In fact, she cannot even justify giving it that name as that would imply there was some rescue – she sees no way out. • The states she considers in the first two verses all have some ‘escape’ but she sees none for herself. • It is worth considering how she sums up the whole sense of depression and despair in so few words.

  10. THEME How can you link this poem to others? Things to consider: • Obviously, the sense of despair ties in well to poems such as “After great pain…”. However, that may have suggested physical pain, this suggests psychological torment. • “I felt a funeral…” also links well – that sense of personal emptiness and loss seem to be clarified here. • Despair is also a key element in “There’s a sudden slant…” so we need to look at how she represents it there compared to this poem.