Aiyanna’s Blog Post

Emily Dickinson’s “It was not Death, for I stood up” at first glance to be a poem about death or rather what death feels like. Throughout the poem Ms.Dickinson describes how the event the speaker experienced could not have been death. In the very first stanza the speaker says “It was not Death, for I stood up, And all the Dead, lie down—). Though some of the feelings were similar, the end result was the opposite of what should have happened. For example, the speaker describes the feeling of death as “frost” but in his/her experience it was not “frost” because he/she on his/her flesh “felt Sirocos-crawl” (6). According to Webster dictionary, sirocos spelled sirocco, is hot winds. These winds being the direct opposite of what death is supposed to feel like according to the speaker. Dickinson follows this same pattern of opposites throughout the first and second stanzas.

Dickinson could have chosen to simply describe despair as what the speaker felt. Instead, Dickinson chose to describe the feeling as what she did not feel, in comparison to death. In all of the stanzas, the only one to have an end is the last stanza. A period comes after the word despair. The word despair, which itself is alone, separated by a dash from the rest of the phrasing “To justify—Despair” (24). This could possibly show that the subject of this poem is not simply despair but despair over loss.

There are also phrases of the poem which have no context in which the reader can understand what the speaker is referring to. One such example being the first three lines of the last stanza “But, most, like Chaos—Stopless—cool/Without a Chance, or Spar/Or even a Report of Land” (21-23). Dickinson capitalizes words within phrases of stanzas. Most of the capitalized words relate to death such as the capitalization of “Burial,” “Midnight,” “Death,” “Dead,” “Flesh,” etc. Overall, Dickinson’s poems do not seem to have a concrete meaning. Rather they stem from one central idea such as death, and explore different aspects of it. “It was not Death, for I stood up” could possibly be exploring despair from death, life or realization of mortality.

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3 Responses to Aiyanna’s Blog Post

  1. Rani Srinivasan says:

    It is ironic that Aiyanna said that “It was not Death, for I stood up” was about death because that’s exactly what I thought at first. After rereading it and further analyzing the work, I came to the conclusion that I have no idea what the “it” Dickinson is constantly referring to is. She gives the reader numerous clues as to what it is not, such as frost, fire, and night. The speaker is obviously tormented greatly by whatever “it” was, to the point of “Despair” (XI 20). But the fact that she doesn’t offer much clarification as to what “it” is, is an interesting choice in diction. She leaves it up to the reader to decipher what could possibly be torturing her. As a result, the reader may be able to better identify with the work by associating “it” with any problems he or she may currently be facing.

  2. Conor McGuire says:

    Aiyanna’s post is very interesting to me as i too am intrigued by the cryptic use of Dickinson’s phrasing. However, for as cryptic her phrasing may be i think this poem is best understood when looking at both the first two and last lines. “It was not Death, for i stood up/ And all the Dead, lie down-” is such a great line and it does not require a closer reading to yield that the only thing separating her from death is the fact that she is alive; she can stand up. Furthermore, the last line “To justify- Despair” is an explicit declaration of what she is feeling. The poem is an illustration in quantifying Dickinson’s deep feeling of despair. Although she can feel the Siroccos and keep a chanel cool with her feet it is these sensations alone that transcend her feelings of despair and serve as the only reminder that she is alive.

  3. Bella Rubin says:

    I found what Aiyanna wrote really interesting about how “Dickinson could have chosen to simply describe despair as what the speaker felt. Instead, Dickinson chose to describe the feeling as what the speaker did not feel, in comparison to death.” I think this displays real despair because the speaker is in worse place then someone who is dead. Death is a known issue but here Dickinson writes everything the speaker doesn’t have but never concludes what the “It” that the speaker does have is. If the speaker would know what is the cause of the despair at least then there could be a proper cure or explanation.

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