The style used in “It was not Death, for I stood up” by Emily Dickinson is as confusing as the subject matter of the poem. There is an abundance of capital letters, peculiar and esoteric references, as well unconventional syntax. Beyond this, some of the lines simply don’t make much sense in context. The use of capital letters is a good place to begin exploring. According to standard convention, many of the words that are capitalized, should not be, such as “Death” (1) “Flesh” (5) and “Fire” (7). However, the capitalization at a closer glance does not appear random. They seems to come in couples. For example, “Death”(1) and “Dead” (2), “Night” and “Bells” (3), “Frost” and “Flesh” (5), and “Grisly and “Autumn” (19). Words may be capitalized because to her they have taken forms beyond the standard meaning. They have become entities that torment her. The capitalization adds poignancy and joins two concepts together.
The references and imagery are strange as well. For example, a “Sirocco” (6) is desert storm specific to the Sahara that carries dust and heat over to Southern Europe, and has no obvious relevance to life in America. The reference to a “Chancel” (8) in church also seems oddly specific. Furthermore, the nautical terms, such as “Spar” (22) and “Report of Land” (23) too seem out of place and vague.
The syntax, as it relates to the “I” in the poem is especially weird. The poem seems almost self referential, as if Dickinson is speaking out of her body. She speaks of it as in the past, such as “as if my life were Shaven” (13) and “it reminded me of mine” (12), however at the end she seems to imply that the depression is inescapable. The duality is perplexing. Additionally, there is at least one line that is, colloquially put, flat-out weird: “and could not breath without a key” (15). I am not sure what this line intends, but everything about, from the connection between breathing to the unlocking seems strange. Another example of strange phrasing and chaotic imagery is in the first stanza of the poem: “It was not Night for all the Bells / Put out their tongues, for Noon” (3-4). It is unclear why she chooses to personify the bells with the strange imagery of the tongue rather than simply say the bells were ringing. Perhaps (or obviously) all this is intentional to show how individual this affliction is, how personal it, and the “I” is. It is references that only truly make sense to the individual, and only they can truly understand how they feel using what makes sense to them.