The Unknown Destination: After Death
Taking a swift glance on the list of poems Emily Dickinson wrote, one could infer that the topic of death and its consequences, like eternity, was significant to her. Almost half of her published poems are about death, assumes Peter Nesteruk, a China-based researcher and lecturer. However, critics continue to debate on the reason why the death theme was so important to Dickinson. There are speculations that her upbringing in a strictly religious family could be a factor, or that the shift from Puritanism ideology to Transcendentalism during her time affected her as well. Whatever the reason is, Dickinson’s death poems remain the most powerful among her work, especially Because I Could Not Stop for Death. In this poem, Dickinson personifies Death as a civil gentleman who “knew no haste.” The drive in the carriage represented the stages of human life – from childhood, to maturity, to death. The poem ends with an implication that the persona had been long gone, and that he/she is now in eternity.
Looking at the Filipino perspective of perceiving and dealing with death, the Christian orientation instills in our minds that there is life after death. Although we usually avoid the topic of death, once it is there, we would always say that his/her soul is in heaven. It actually turns out to be ironic – how we fear death and avoid talking about it, especially when we have old and terminally ill people around, but we say that we believe that their death is God’s will, and that they will go to a happy place after death. In Chary Lou Navarro’s poem Si Lola Isyang at ang Matandang Puno ng Kaimito, an old woman, who is compared to an old kaimito tree, finally succumbs to death. The arrival of death was symbolized through the “fingers of the wind,” and I got the impression that death had come to her in a gentle manner, just like how those same fingers slowly picked the leaves of the kaimito tree.
Emily Dickinson's world was her father's home and garden in a small New England town. She lived most of her life within this private world. Her romantic visions and emotional intensity kept her from making all but a few friends. Because of this life of solitude, she was able to focus on her world more sharply than other authors of her time were.Her poems, carefully tied in packets, were discovered ...
Like what I have mentioned earlier, Dickinson had personified death as a gentleman who waited for the persona, when she “could not stop for death.” It had been civil to her, and it drove her in a carriage to eternity. Now going back to Navarro’s poem, I believe that death was characterized to be the same. It came conveniently (at old age) just like in Dickinson’s poem. Also, based on the fact that it was written in Filipino schema, I think that that death signified another stage of life – that which is spent in eternity. However, while we Filipinos hold on to that idea of life after death because of our religion, Dickinson wasn’t entirely that religious. She went to church and listened to sermons, and she was moved by them, but they weren’t enough to attract her. However, Dickinson did inherit the Puritan traits of austerity, simplicity, and practicality, as well as an astute observation of the inner self. I also believe that the time she spent in isolation helped her a lot in forming a deep connection to her art, and in turn, her art became her expression of spirituality. Despite these differences in belief, Dickinson and Navarro’s ideas of death converge at certain points. I also happened to notice their approach on the arrival of death, like it were some sort of visitor – and this visitor is far from unwanted. It’s like the two personas were already expecting it, and they came with it without any fear or hesitation. It makes me wonder how death will come in reality, and if one could ever know when it’s near. But death will continue to remain a mysterious part of our earthly lives, we could only get a glimpse of ideas of death through poems like these.
Melani, L. (2009).
Emily Dickinson – death. [Lecture and notes]. Retrieved from
Nesteruk, P. (1997).The many deaths of Emily Dickinson. The Emily Dickinson Journal, 5 (1),
Emily Dickinson’s poem, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”, is believed to have been written in 1865, and is a vivid portrayal of one of the most infamous creatures of the natural world, the snake. “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is a short six stanza, narrative which tells the story of an encounter with a snake. The poem expresses emotions of intrigue, “His notice ...
Sri Chimnoy Centre. (n.d.).
The spirituality of Emily Dickinson. Retrieved from
Wells, H. W. (1947).
Introduction to Emily Dickinson. Chicago: Packard.