Presentation Title

Tribulations of the Death Drive and Religion in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Location

MSE 113

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Abstract

American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote: “Christ is calling everyone here, and I am standing alone in rebellion.” Despite Dickinson’s upbringing in a distinguished Protestant family, the persona displays an acute skepticism towards organized religion. Rather than treat the Bible as the truth, in what is considered orthodox for a Christian, her poems would use it as a repository of symbolism to invoke intense imagery. Death is a prominent subject, and the persona throughout Dickinson’s poems is inconsistent on the Christian notion of an afterlife. In poems like “Because I Could Not Stop for Death–,” the possibility of an afterlife is touched upon. However, others like “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died” evocatively illustrate death as obliteration. When one also examines the works of authors/poets that influenced Dickinson, such as the persona in Elizabeth Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee,” in which the persona states “I shall but love thee better after death,” it further illuminates the captivating manner of how Dickinson approaches the subject of death. The persona in Dickinson’s poems struggles with the disillusionment of Christianity, as well as what Sigmund Freud defined as the death drive; these tribulations are a byproduct of the notable historical movements of Dickinson’s time like the Second Great Awakening. This essay postulates the distinct struggle with religion and the death drive found in Dickinson’s poetry are a precursor to Modernism, because the rejection of traditional Christian values, belief in the uncertainty, and resignation of life are all Modernist traits.

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Nov 12th, 2:15 PM Nov 12th, 2:30 PM

Tribulations of the Death Drive and Religion in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

MSE 113

American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote: “Christ is calling everyone here, and I am standing alone in rebellion.” Despite Dickinson’s upbringing in a distinguished Protestant family, the persona displays an acute skepticism towards organized religion. Rather than treat the Bible as the truth, in what is considered orthodox for a Christian, her poems would use it as a repository of symbolism to invoke intense imagery. Death is a prominent subject, and the persona throughout Dickinson’s poems is inconsistent on the Christian notion of an afterlife. In poems like “Because I Could Not Stop for Death–,” the possibility of an afterlife is touched upon. However, others like “I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died” evocatively illustrate death as obliteration. When one also examines the works of authors/poets that influenced Dickinson, such as the persona in Elizabeth Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee,” in which the persona states “I shall but love thee better after death,” it further illuminates the captivating manner of how Dickinson approaches the subject of death. The persona in Dickinson’s poems struggles with the disillusionment of Christianity, as well as what Sigmund Freud defined as the death drive; these tribulations are a byproduct of the notable historical movements of Dickinson’s time like the Second Great Awakening. This essay postulates the distinct struggle with religion and the death drive found in Dickinson’s poetry are a precursor to Modernism, because the rejection of traditional Christian values, belief in the uncertainty, and resignation of life are all Modernist traits.