Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedShe Died This Was The Way She Died Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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She died—this was the way she died

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "She died—this was the way she died."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | She died--this was the way she died | Summary

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Summary

This two-stanza poem in ballad meter deviates from iambic meter in the first line. The second and fourth lines of both stanzas are in typical iambic trimeter, but the third line of each consists of three iambic feet plus an unstressed syllable.

The speaker describes a woman's death. After she stops breathing, the woman then takes her "wardrobe" and heads toward the sun. She arrives at a gate, a portal between mortality and immortality, from which she vanishes. The speaker presumes angels must have come and brought her into heaven.

Analysis

Dickinson is always a close observer of life and death, and her poetry often reveals a frank portrayal of death. When someone dies in a Dickinson poem, the person simply becomes a corpse, as the poet focuses on the moment a living person ceases to be: the moment of "unbecoming." Death is neither romanticized nor emotionalized.

In this poem the woman simply stops breathing. Dickinson suggests the image of a quiet and uneventful trip as the dead woman, wearing simple clothes, departs toward "the sun," presumably heaven. The speaker supposes the angels "must have spied" her "at the gate" of heaven, for the speaker cannot find the dead person in the mortal world. There is no final, impassioned exclamation, no vision of angels or bright light, no mention of the soul or spirit leaving the body. The deceased has simply gone on a quiet journey, never to return.

In the first line the word this is a stressed syllable where one would expect an unstressed syllable, thereby creating a slight pause and emphasizing this, which refers to the ensuing narrative.

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