Emily Dickinson and Death

Emily Dickinson was 55 years of age when she died on 15 May 1886 in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Some years earlier, in 1866 when Laura Hills Dickey, her neighbours’ daughter, died she informed her sister (“A woman died last week, young and in hope but a little while – at the end of our garden. I thought since of the power of death, not upon affection, but its mortal signal. It is to us the Nile.” *) and then wrote the following poem:

The last Night that She lived
It was a Common Night
Except the Dying—this to Us
Made Nature different

We noticed smallest things—
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our Minds
Italicized—as ’twere.

As We went out and in
Between Her final Room
And Rooms where Those to be alive
Tomorrow were, a Blame

That Others could exist
While She must finish quite
A Jealousy for Her arose
So nearly infinite—

We waited while She passed—
It was a narrow time—
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot—
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce—
Consented, and was dead—

And We—We placed the Hair—
And drew the Head erect—
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate—

The Last Night that She Lived represents perhaps Emily Dickinson’s most powerful death scene.

In this poem she reflects on the last moments of a person from the perspective of those who remain- She deals with their feelings and portrays the moment when a person passes on as an exhausted and resigned surrender to the inevitable.
After that , the living have a painful wait when they have to come to terms with their situation striving to “regulate” their beliefs about God and immorality or dispel their doubts.

L’ultima notte ch’ella visse
fu una notte normale
salvo il suo morire – che a noi
rese diversa la natura

Notammo i più piccoli dettagli –
cose trascurate in precedenza
come se questa grande luce
le imprimesse in corsivo nella nostra mente –

Mentre andavamo avanti e indietro
tra l’ultima sua stanza
e le stanze in cui era chi l’indomani
sarebbe stato ancora vivo, ci prese lo sdegno

che altri potessero esistere
mentre ella doveva finire del tutto –
e sorse pure un’invidia per lei
così vicina all’infinito –

Aspettammo mentre se ne andava –
e fu un tempo angusto –
troppo oppressa era la nostra anima per parlare
infine giunse il segno.

Fece un cenno, e cessò di ricordare –
E lieve come un giunco
flesso sull’acqua, si agitò – appena –
poi acconsentì, e fu morta –

E noi – noi le sistemammo i capelli –
le rialzammo la testa .
e poi una quiete tremenda sopravvenne
a regolare la nostra fede

(L.Z.)

*Una donna è morta la scorsa settimana, giovane e piena di speranza, anche se per poco – aldilà del nostro giardino. Da allora penso al potere della morte, non sugli affetti, ma come segnale mortale. È il Nilo per noi.

Image: Edvard Munch – 1893 –  Death in the Sickroom – Google Art Project.

32 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson and Death

  1. I had a friend years ago dying of a brain tumor. During his last years he spent his time taking pictures of nature, ie… mushrooms, flowers, sunsets, etc. He spoke of how Nature, that which is all around us, is the truest of our spiritual being. I will never forget that. He was right. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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