Sunday, September 20, 2009

Death is a Dialogue between

Death is a Dialogue between
The Spirit and the Dust.
"Dissolve" says Death,
The Spirit "Sir
I have another Trust"--

Death doubts it--
Argues from the Ground--
The Spirit turns away
Just laying off for evidence
An Overcoat of Clay.
(F 973)

Much of Dickinson's poetry casts the religion of Amherst and her family into doubt. She never made peace with the Christian view of her family, although through her poetry she struggles time and time again with issues of faith and belief. Specific answers as to what Dickinson believed or put her faith in is unknown-- she took that secret to the grave with her. It does seem, through her poetry, that she did believe in an afterlife or some existence beyond death. She also has a firm trust in the idea that people consist of body and soul and that the soul is eternal.

This poem is one of the closer hints that readers have at a profession of belief or assurance of some sort of faith. It's mystical, unclear and sort of like a statement a deist or even agnostic might make. If Dickinsons belongs in any specific "belief" category I would be tempted to put her in the "agnostic" column, because she seems to think that God might exist but really doubts that a personal relationship with him is possible.

All that aside, the speaker's description of the "overcoat of clay" and shedding that coat for a "another trust" is one of the most beautiful metaphors for the end of mortality and the eternal state of the soul found in poetry. Interestingly enough, death is never fearful or the winner in Dickinson's poetry. Death is personified as a gentleman at times, sneaky and sometimes even spiteful. But death never wins in Dickinson's poetry. Memory and the eternity of the soul always trump death.

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