Dickinson, “It Was Not Death, For I Stood Up”

It was not Death, for I stood up,

And all the Dead, lie down –

It was not Night, for all the Bells

Put out their Tongues, for Noon.


It was not Frost, for on my Flesh

I felt Siroccos – crawl –            siroccos- unrelenting hot Saharan winds

Nor Fire – for just my Marble feet

Could keep a Chancel, cool –           chancel- space by alter in church for clergy

And yet, it tasted, like them all,

The Figures I have seen

Set orderly, for Burial,

Reminded me, of mine –


As if my life were shaven,

And fitted to a frame,

And could not breathe without a key,

And ’twas like Midnight, some –


When everything that ticked – has stopped –

And Space stares all around –

Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,                                  grisly- formidable, grim

Repeal the Beating Ground –


But, most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –

Without a Chance, or Spar –

Or even a Report of Land –

To Justify – Despair.

We know what this poem is not about; it’s not about her dying but it sure did feel like she was. She goes from bad to worse throughout the poem. She goes on throughout the poem saying what her condition is not which I thought was an interesting approach. Normally when you’re talking about something that you’re going through you don’t say what it is not rather you come right out and say what it is. I think Dickinson’s method makes us want to read through the rest of the poem because we know so much about what her condition is not that we want to know that it is which we find out is despair. Throughout the whole poem Dickinson refers to her condition as ‘it,’ almost as if she trying to figure out what ‘it’ is too. She knows what ‘it’ isn’t but she can’t figure out what ‘it’ is. That is until the ending when she says “To Justify – Despair.” Perhaps the line there is a pause upon revealing that ‘it’ is despair.

via Dickinson, “It Was Not Death, For I Stood Up”.

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