The Portrayal Of Death in Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” And Seamus Heaney’s “Midterm Break”

May 15, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death” and Seamus Heaney’s “Midterm break” death is the main subject throughout the poems. Maybe while living in an antisocial way Emily Dickinson started to be interested and started to write and learn about death. Seamus Heaney wrote “Midterm break” when he was older the poem was about the death of his brother and what he remembers about it. Emily Dickinson’s poem talks about Death in a more friendly way and personifies him giving a feeling that it’s a perfectly natural thing that happens, but Seamus Heaney treats death as more of a concept and an unnatural thing that happens in life.

Emily Dickinson portrays death in a different aspect as Seamus Heaney did in his poem. Unlike other poets that normally portrays death as a grim reaper that slices away at his victims and brings them away, Emily Dickinson in “Because I could not stop for death” In Emily Dickinson’s poem she personifies death as a stylish man that will be with her on her journey. She uses masculine pronouns to help paint a picture for the audience of what she thinks death looks like. She accentuates her affable mood towards death by using pronouns like “We” or “Ourselves” to align herself or the main protagonist with death. Emily Dickinson’s description of death is unusual compared to what other poets normally do, she personifies death and gives the audience an image of an aristocratic travel companion that will be with her through her travels into unfamiliar land give a feeling of an abnormal sense of amenity. “And I had put away, My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility”. This benign version of death is enhanced by her use of enjambment on “And Immortality”. In the poem the main protagonist and what the main protagonist thinks is death arrive at a school, which is in contradiction to the rest of the environment (“We passed the School, where Children strove”). Children and school are normally associated with life and joy but in the poem it’s polar opposite to what they normally are (“We passed the School, where Children strove”) strove implies that it took a great effort to do something which is contradictory for children because children are normally known for being impulsive and random. Strove could also imply that struggle which again is contradictory to what children are normally which is free and happy. Perhaps Emily Dickinson is trying to tell her audience that eternal life or “immortality” as it is told in the poem is only available through hard work and struggle.

Dickinson and Heaney both use rhythm and rhyme in their respective poems. Both poems picked a specific rhythm to set a specific mood for each poem. Seamus Heaney used a tercet format to write his poem this could have been on purpose because the poem was based on the death of his brother which was 3 at the time it would turn 4 later that year which explains the last line separate from all the others (“A four-foot box, a foot for every year”). The tercet format also sets a slow and heavy pace to fit the occasion. It also sets a calm and broken atmosphere compared to what Dickinson has done with her poem, she has set up for the poem to be fluid and more song like with a happier outlook on things. Heaney used pauses dashes and enjambment to slow the flow of the poem to allow the effects of each word in the poem to have a longer lasting effect on the audience that encourages the audience to progress throughout the poem in a more careful and considerate pace due to the circumstances and setting of the poem. Meanwhile in Emily Dickinson’s piece her uses of dashes and other punctuation is used to emphasize her theme of “Immortality” throughout her poem. The dashes also promote a feeling of advancements throughout the poem giving the audience a feeling of story instead of poem. Emily Dickinson choice of words allows the audience to have a more introspective analysis and understanding of each and every line, Even though each line has a deeper meaning to it, all of the lines in the poem links back to the same topic in the end. In all of the stanzas, Emily Dickinson wrote her choice of words in 8 syllables for her odd lines and 6 syllables for her even lines, in the fourth stanza that rule is completely flipped around, just like the setting of the poem from day to night. Maybe this flip of rules is a connotation of how the protagonist is finally beginning the transition from the land of the living to the land of the dead.

Emily Dickinson’s eloquence further reinforces her affection towards death throughout the third and fourth stanza, the main protagonist goes pass a “School”, “Fields of Gazing Grain” and “Setting Sun” each one of these settings can be interpreted as a stage of life. “School” could represent her adolescents, the “Fields of Gazing Grain” could represent her time as a young adult and “Setting sun” could mean her time as an old woman. At the end of the main protagonist travels she arrives at “House” that is broken and crumbled, the main protagonist is mentioned to see “Swelling in the ground”. This “swelling in the ground” could be interpreted as her final resting place. Emily Dickinson’s choice to put her final resting place with a “House” is rather contradictory because a “House” is usually associated with families and is normally a very lively place but maybe Emily Dickinson meant to associate her final resting place with something more comfortable and intimate is intentional to further reinforce her relationship with death. Even though the “Swelling in the ground” is meant to be her final resting place it is notable that the main protagonist only “pauses” in front of the grave and moves on in her journey with death. That could be interpreted as she never planned to stay on site and would move on towards immortality and eternity. When the main protagonist gets closer and closer to the end of her journey she starts to see less and less of everything around her until her vision is limited to the things in front of her in the carriage. That could be interpreted as how the longer she has been on her journey the less he cares about the material world.

In Seamus Heaney’s poem, his main protagonist experiences what he felt when his brother passed away. Seamus Heaney’s main focus was to capture what it felt to have someone you cared so deeply for ripped away from you in a moment’s notice. He does this wonderfully by describing everything action the people that cared about his brother did. For example, “I met my father crying” and “In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs”. Both of these express how emotionally damaged his parents were from his mother who has felt so much there isn’t anything more she can say or feel, and his father whom he describes as “He had always taken funerals in his stride—”also “shed a tear” which shatters what young Seamus Heaney used to think about his father striking a deep sense of fear into him. All of the work he’s put in to describe the actions of the people around him makes the audience feel like they’re there at the funeral to making the audience feel the pain that his family and he did too. Next, when the main protagonist enters the house he hears “Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,” this further increases the amount of unease and lack of privacy in the grieving process. Every word Heaney has used was designed to evoke great empathy from the audience.

In conclusion, both poems offer a different version of approach towards death one views death with more embracing outlook and one with a more animosity. These two poem contrast with each other Emily Dickinson’s work was mainly used to lessen the audience’s hate of death and to allow the audience to view death the same way as she does. Seamus Heaney presented death in its most normally viewed way, as a painful and challenging experience. I believe that readers would think that Emily Dickinson’s presentation of death to be more unique and interesting, she writes about death almost in a romantic way fantasizing him as someone that will always be there for her. I believe that both of these poems are highly articulate and compelling and should be studied in the future.

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