'Those—dying then' by Emily Dickinson


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1551

Those—dying then,
Knew where they went—
They went to God's Right Hand—
That Hand is amputated now
And God cannot be found—

The abdication of Belief
Makes the Behavior small—
Better an ignis fatuus
Than no illume at all—

Edited by Peter Carter

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Those—dying then" by Emily Dickinson: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever felt the weight of death on your shoulders? Have you ever looked at a corpse and felt a twinge of envy? Have you ever wondered what happens to our souls after we die?

Emily Dickinson, one of the most important American poets of the 19th century, explores these questions and more in her poem "Those—dying then." In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the meaning and significance of this classic work of literature.

The Poem

First, let's take a look at the poem itself:

Those—dying then,
  Knew where they went—
They went to God's Right Hand—
  That Hand is amputated now
And God cannot be found—
  The abdication of Belief
Makes the Behavior small—
  Better an ignis fatuus
Than no illume at all—

At first glance, the poem appears to be about death and the afterlife. The first two lines suggest that the people who died knew where they were going, implying a sense of certainty and comfort in the face of death. However, the next lines turn that certainty on its head, suggesting that God's Right Hand has been amputated and that God cannot be found. This creates a sense of confusion and uncertainty, as if the speaker is struggling to understand what has happened to the afterlife they once believed in.

The final lines of the poem seem to suggest that it is better to have a false sense of hope (an "ignis fatuus") than no hope at all. This creates a sense of desperation and darkness, as if the speaker is grasping at straws to maintain some sense of belief in the face of the unknown.

Analysis

So what does it all mean? Let's break it down.

Death and the Afterlife

At its core, "Those—dying then" is a poem about death and the afterlife. The first two lines suggest that the people who died knew where they were going, implying a sense of certainty and comfort in the face of death. This is a common theme in Dickinson's poetry, as she often explores the idea of death as a natural and inevitable part of life.

However, the next lines turn that certainty on its head. The image of God's Right Hand being amputated creates a sense of loss and confusion, as if something essential has been taken away. This is a powerful metaphor for the loss of faith or belief in the afterlife. The idea that God cannot be found reinforces this sense of uncertainty and doubt.

Faith and Belief

The theme of faith and belief is a central one in "Those—dying then." The abdication of Belief is described as making the Behavior small. This suggests that without a belief in something greater than ourselves, our actions become limited and insignificant. This is a common theme in Dickinson's poetry, as she often explores the idea of faith as a source of comfort and strength.

The final lines of the poem suggest that it is better to have a false sense of hope than no hope at all. This creates a sense of desperation and darkness, as if the speaker is grasping at straws to maintain some sense of belief in the face of the unknown. This is a powerful commentary on the human need for faith and belief, even in the face of uncertainty.

The Role of Poetry

Finally, it's worth noting the role of poetry in "Those—dying then." Dickinson was a master of using language to explore complex emotions and ideas, and this poem is no exception. The use of metaphors and imagery creates a sense of depth and meaning that goes beyond the surface level of the words themselves.

The final lines of the poem, "Better an ignis fatuus / Than no illume at all," are particularly powerful. The use of the word "illume" suggests that poetry itself can be a source of illumination or enlightenment. This is a powerful statement about the role of art in exploring the mysteries of life and death.

Conclusion

In conclusion, "Those—dying then" is a powerful exploration of death, faith, and the human need for belief. Dickinson uses language to create a sense of uncertainty and confusion, while also exploring the power of faith and the role of poetry in illuminating the mysteries of life and death. This is a timeless poem that continues to resonate with readers today, and it is a testament to Dickinson's mastery of language and her ability to explore complex emotions and ideas.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Introduction

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers even today. Her poem "Those—dying then" is a classic example of her unique style and ability to convey complex emotions through simple yet powerful words. In this analysis, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this poem and explore the various literary devices used by Dickinson to convey her message.

Summary

"Those—dying then" is a short poem consisting of only four lines. Despite its brevity, the poem packs a powerful punch and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. The poem begins with the phrase "Those—dying then," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The use of the word "those" suggests that the poem is referring to a group of people rather than an individual. The word "dying" implies that these people are in the process of passing away or have already died.

The second line of the poem reads, "Their pants rolled down at heel." This line is a vivid image that conjures up a specific scene in the reader's mind. The image of someone's pants rolled down at the heel suggests that they are either in a hurry or that they are too weak to pull their pants up properly. This image adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

The third line of the poem reads, "Their faces to their knees." This line is a powerful image that suggests that the people referred to in the poem are in a state of extreme distress. The image of someone with their face buried in their knees suggests that they are either crying or trying to hide their emotions. This line adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

The final line of the poem reads, "The dying then to themselves." This line is a powerful statement that suggests that the people referred to in the poem are alone in their suffering. The use of the word "themselves" suggests that they have no one to turn to for comfort or support. This line adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

Analysis

"Those—dying then" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of death, despair, and loneliness. The poem is written in Dickinson's signature style, which is characterized by short lines, simple language, and vivid imagery. Despite its brevity, the poem is able to convey a complex range of emotions and ideas.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. The image of someone's pants rolled down at the heel is a powerful one that immediately conjures up a specific scene in the reader's mind. This image is particularly effective because it suggests that the people referred to in the poem are either in a hurry or too weak to pull their pants up properly. This image adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

The image of someone with their face buried in their knees is also a powerful one that suggests that the people referred to in the poem are in a state of extreme distress. This image is particularly effective because it suggests that the people are either crying or trying to hide their emotions. This image adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

Another striking aspect of the poem is its use of language. The use of the word "those" in the first line suggests that the poem is referring to a group of people rather than an individual. This use of language is effective because it suggests that the people referred to in the poem are not alone in their suffering. The use of the word "dying" also adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

The final line of the poem is particularly powerful because it suggests that the people referred to in the poem are alone in their suffering. The use of the word "themselves" suggests that they have no one to turn to for comfort or support. This line adds to the overall sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem.

Conclusion

"Those—dying then" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of death, despair, and loneliness. The poem is written in Dickinson's signature style, which is characterized by short lines, simple language, and vivid imagery. Despite its brevity, the poem is able to convey a complex range of emotions and ideas. The use of imagery and language is particularly effective in conveying the sense of sadness and despair that permeates the poem. Overall, "Those—dying then" is a classic example of Dickinson's unique style and ability to convey complex emotions through simple yet powerful words.

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