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The Perception Of Death And Confinement In Annabel Lee And Because I Could Not Stop For Death

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It is worth noting various elements that likely influenced the writing of each author. For example, both authors were likely mentally ill and seemed to possess rather dysfunctional relationships with those in their company. Both fairly reclusive, although Poe less so than Dickinson, they also tend to focus heavily on the feeling of confinement. That said, they’re portrayals of confinement differ strongly. Whereas Poe tends to jump from house to coffin, implying a fear of confinement, and thus creating a feeling of claustrophobia for his readers, Dickinson tends to lean more towards agoraphobia, finding empowerment through confinement and allowing her window to not just be a window to her yard or street, but a window to the rest of the world. However, Poe was a writer of poems and short stories, as well as essays, journal articles, and experience in editing. Dickinson, however was not so versatile. She wrote poems. Due to Poe’s extra experience, I find it most suitable to compare specifically and only Poe’s poetry rather than his short stories in order to level the works onto the same medium. That said, I feel that the commonalities they share, along with the state of their mental health heavily influences the way they depicted the internalization of death, and how it’s perceived by their readers.

The perception of death in Poe’s poetry stays fairly constant as he continues to present death in conjunction with something tender to the heart, usually love. In “Annabel Lee” Poe presents the loneliness brought upon by death through the loss of his beloved. Lines in the poem like, “So that her high-born kinsmen came / And bore her away from me” (17-18) often provoke parallels to be made between Annabel Lee of the poem and Poe’s wife Virginia, who also died. Mourning due to the loss of a loved one is a natural reaction, but the idea that Poe is juxtaposing Annabel Lee with his real-life love, Virginia does endow the poem with a deeper, more meaningful sentiment. Speculation aside, this poem’s very essence depicts the lament and grief Poe associates with death. Poe continues, “For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams / […] / And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee” (33-36). This passage exemplifies the remorse one undergoes when grieving the loss of a beloved, and Poe fixates on that remorse. In this poem and throughout many of his works, death is represented as a fiend that takes away everything precious life gives, and we cannot escape it.

Similarly to “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s “The Raven” also focuses on the torment and grief death brings. In what his perhaps his most famous poem, Poe introducers readers to a poet who is trying to ease his “sorrow for the lost Lenore” (10). His leisure is continually interrupted by the tapping of a Raven on his door who only ever answers the poet with the word “nevermore.” The narrator knows that the Raven doesn’t speak from knowledge, but rather someone has taught him the word. However, that doesn’t stop the conversation from becoming quite dramatic as it goes on. The narrator asks the raven for its name and it says, “Nevermore.” He contemplates whether or not the bird will stay, he asks the raven what’ll happen to himself, and he asks the raven what’ll happen to his dead Lenore, and to all, the raven answers, “Nevermore.”

It’s during this conversation with the raven that the poet begins thinking of Lenore. He sits in a chair where she once sat and his mind begins to trail into thoughts of lost love. While realizing that Lenore will not come back, he notices a kind of mystical aura about the raven, saying, “Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen / censer / Swung by angels whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor” (79-80). Despite his knowledge that the raven is simply an uneducated, run of the mill raven, the poet is so desperate to relieve his grief that he fixates on the raven and vyes for an ethereal explanation. Yet, the raven’s inability to offer him wisdom only leads to the poet becoming completely overcome by emotion as he shouts at the raven saying, “Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door! / Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my / door!” (100-01). Then, upon the ravens departure the poet laments, “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor / Shall be lifted – nevermore!” (108-09). The intense emotions of passion and pain being evoked from the poet creates a melancholy atmosphere from which he sees no escape. In this way, the intensity of the sorrow depicted in “The Raven” presents death as a cause of genuine grief and pain that haunts both those victim to it and the reader.

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Like Poe, the poetry of Emily Dickinson also often features themes of death. Contrary to the despair Poe features in his texts, Dickinson often draws off external forces to create a feeling of looming death. Dickinson offers elements like “a stress,” “a buzz,” or “a funeral” that begin to slowly envelop the consciousness. In the works looked at for Poe, the characters of the poems are dealing with the after effects death; the emotions and suffering caused by death of someone else. However, with Dickinson, the reader is presented with neither the emotional turmoil that follows the death of a loved one nor the suffering caused by death in general, rather, Dickinson presents the experience of dying through encounters with death. Poems such as “I heard a Fly buzz” and “I felt a Funeral” attempt to convey the sensation of one’s own death, and in doing so, Dickinson tries to characterize the emotional changes one experiences when undergoing the process of death.

In her poem “I heard a Fly buzz” Dickinson plays with the internalization of death right before it happens. This poem does resemble an idea of death similar to Poe’s as she seems to view it as an unwelcomed guest. However, she also emphasizes the before death experience. She describes the moment in which she is both concerned about others while also the center of attention. The fly’s buzz is regarded as a “Blue – uncertain – Stumbling” (13) that reminds her of the unpleasantness that she should feel in her final hour. The first stanza can be read as an emphasis on the struggle for life, “Between the Heaves of Storm –” (4), while the last line more strongly shows the fading away of the consciousness by simply saying, “and then / I could not see to see” (14-15). The image she draws in the poem vividly sketches the internalization and the external associations of death.

Dickinson’s “I felt a funeral,” continues the process of dying as she sketches her funeral being performed. The poem depicts a slow process highlighted through her surroundings becoming obsolete to her, for example in the second stanza she writes, “A Service, like a Drum – / Kept beating – beating – till I thought / My mind was going numb” (6-8). It is here that we begin to see the actual experience of dying begin to take fruition. However, it is not until closer to the end when she writes, “And I dropped down, and down- / And hit a World, at every plunge, / And finished knowing – then” (18-20) that the reader sees death represented as a swelling growth in our subconscious, wherein the funeral is simply a device used to evoke the sensation of dying. The poet is not only observing the funeral but is also feeling the funeral, hence she becomes the observer and the participant at the same time. The ritual is used to close the gap between reality and imagination while also demonstrating a loss of self.

In “Because I could not stop for Death,” Dickinson manages to incorporate all of the ideas presented in “I heard a Fly” and “I felt a Funeral,” while also showing death as a companion and demonstrating the final stage in the dying process: death itself and passing over. Through this poem, Dickinson manages to exchange the fear of death for an uneasy peace she’s come to terms with, knowing that it will come for her. Simply, the poem is a narrative about the process of dying. There is no effort made to familiarize the reader with death as his personality and looks are not what Dickinson is worried about. Merely, Dickinson is experimenting with living death- the life of being dead. To do this, the poem is broken down into three time periods: childhood, youth, and death itself, while Dickinson’s character speaks from the grave and looks back at the world she has left behind.

“Because I could not stop for Death” is a personification of death wherein death becomes a character and friend that Dickinson knows and trusts. I feel this poem does the best job at highlighting the differences between Poe’s and Dickinson’s views on death. This poem shows how, for Dickinson, death is in not an intruder, thief of life, or cause for lament, but rather a trusted friend. In this poem, death, usually characterized as rude, sudden, and monstrous, is transformed into a “kindly,” and “leisure” gentleman. However, this is dropped after only two stanzas. After portraying death as a friend, the tone shifts as the carriage ride continues and she reverts to a cold ambiance. When realizing that the journey death is taking her is not actually a pleasant one, Dickinson emphasizes, “We passed the setting sun / Or rather – He passed Us – / The Dews drew quivering and Chill” (12-14) right before death drops her off at a house that is falling apart. The grave she arrives at and tells the story from, reminds her that death is not as warm as it first appeared, but it is now the only life she knows and must make peace with it.

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The Perception Of Death And Confinement In Annabel Lee And Because I Could Not Stop For Death. (2021, September 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from
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