The poems of Emily Dickinson have been interpreted in a multitude of ways and often it is hard to separate the narrator of her works with the woman who wrote them. Few authors have such a close association between the individual and their work as Emily Dickinson. In Dickinson's poetry, the narrator and the poet are often seen as interchangeable beings. Themes that reappear in Dickinson's poems include God, life, and death. Death and the tragic emotions associated with it echo throughout her poetry. This would logically lead someone to conclude that these three concepts were prevalent in her psychology. According to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon, a site devoted to cataloguing and categorizing all of her works, the word death appears in Dickinson's poetry more than any other word (EDL). Dickinson's life and her experiences are echoed in her poem "The World is Not Conclusion."
Dickinson lived a small and sad little life, choosing to isolate herself to the point that towards the end of her life, she rarely left her familial home. It is easy to see these feelings of loneliness and despair in the words she writes. She was born on December 10, 1830, the second of three children (Wolff 3). Experts state that the outside world held little interest for her. On September 7, 1835, Dickinson began school at West Center District School (Kirk xv). She would finish school at Amherst Academy in 1847. The time she spent in school was sporadic as Emily Dickinson had trouble fitting in with the young society women who were her classmates. She was such a reluctant student that her parents would often have her demand to come home for periods of time. According to biographer Cynthia Wolff, "How best to 'be' was the strenuous and informing concern of her life, and it is this concern -- transformed and divested of the merely personal -- that finds passionate expression in her poetry" (9). To Dickinson, the world was her home, her family, and her friends. Her interests included these things, nature, and death. Anything beyond was unimportant to her world.
Before Emily Dickinson turned seventeen, she was a relatively devout Christian and attended Church every Sunday. After her seventeenth birthday, "after a series of revival meetings at Mount Holyoke Seminary, Emily Dickinson found that she must refuse to become a professing Christian" (Bloom 11). She felt that the rules of the Church simply did not apply to the world she knew and began questioning her religion. Yet Emily Dickinson felt this somehow made her bad, describing herself in a letter to Abiah Root by saying, "I am one of the lingering bad ones, and so do I slink away" (11). Dickinson spent more of her life writing about emotions than participating in the real world.
Interestingly, at the time of her death in 1886, only ten of Dickinson's poems had been published and those were all done anonymously. Newspaper journalist Peter Parker wrote, "She would often send her friends bunches of flowers with a verse attached; they valued the posy more than the poetry" (Parker 1). When Emily Dickinson died, she was more famous in her community for her family's beautiful garden than for her writing ability. When one looks at how much Dickinson obsessed with death and the process of dying, it is interesting that she took so much pride in a garden, which is a testament to life and living things.
The format of Dickinson's poetry adds to the association between author and poetic narrator. Instead of a contrived rhyme scheme or even a constant meter, Dickinson instead uses a more free form of poetic writing. She also uses interesting capitalization and punctuation. Often a line will be broken up into phrases by the use of dash marks. Using this punctuation and capitalization changes the pronunciation, the rhythm, and the emphasis of words and ultimately changes the meaning as well. According to Sharon Leiter in the book Critical Companion to Emily Dickinson:
Note Dickinson's use of punctuation as a stylistic element: By placing grammatically incorrect commas after 'Philosophy' and 'Sagacity,' she interrupts the flow of the lines in which they occur (much as she does with the dashes), making them 'hesitate' uncertainly (209).
This type of writing gives her poetry a more sporadic effect which makes it appear that the poems are just being jotted down like singular moments of though and insight that happen to come to her. This haphazard appearance is belied by the fact that Emily Dickinson was a constant reviser and would often write the same few lines many, many times before she felt satisfied with a particular piece.
In the poem "The World is Not Conclusion," Emily Dickinson writes about her own struggles with religion and the way she believes that all peoples must also struggle with their faith. The first lines of the poem illustrate her philosophy that she believes in something other than the current world that we live in. That is to say, although she may not believe completely and unquestioningly in the words of the Bible, she does not think that the life that ends on Earth is the end of life at all. The world beyond this may very well be the Heaven that is described in the Christian holy text, but no one can be certain until they reach that plain. Dickinson writes, "A species stands beyond - / Invisible, as Music -- " (lines 2-3). Music is ephemeral. Although we can see the instruments that are being played and we can see the people who are playing them, it is not visible what creates the music. This is also the way that she sees God and religion. We can have the faith and go to Heaven without being aware of how the process works or who orchestrates the conditions which allow the metaphorical music to play. In the piece she effectively makes an appeal to her readership that they must think for themselves. She also supports being a good person because although we may not know positively what it is that awaits us, there surely is something and anyone who does not behave according to the social norms will undoubtedly be banned from better realm.
From this point, she discusses the very serious history of Christianity and the idea of the Crucifixion. If the stories about Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection are true, then worship of God and his son are very solemn things which should be taken seriously. Such a sacrifice requires the believer to think about what ones Savior gave up in order to protect and defend his people. This part of the poem functions as a turning point in the narrative of the poem, such as there is. At first, the poem was an earnest projection of Dickinson's faith in the afterlife. After this passage, Dickinson's tone changes from one of certainty to an acknowledgement of religious hypocrisy.
The text illustrates that what Dickinson struggles with in terms of God and religion has nothing really to do with the belief system, but instead everything to do with the lack of sincerity she sees in members of the clergy. Instead of blindly obeying the will of clergy members and those that claim to speak the word of God, each person should formulate their own relationship with God through their individual understanding of their faith. Those that go to church and listen to the preachers and buy into everything that is said are hypocritical in their faith. Dickinson writes: "Much Gesture, from the Pulpit - / Strong Hallelujahs roll -- " (lines 17-18). From the pulpit, preachers and reverends make speeches and they use their body movements to display passion and enthusiasm for what they say. The audience, in response, agrees completely and calls an affirmative response. However, it is all a sham. Emily Dickinson witnesses these scenes and instead of believing in their sincerity, she interprets this as a falsehood wherein the people on both sides of the altar are pretending to feel religious fervor because they feel the saying of words is enough to please God. These people do not have to do the work of making an individual relationship with God and thus their faith is not as strong as the one that Dickinson has with God. Writing about this section, Sharon Leiter states:
What the 'Pulpit' offers is superficial, extravagant gesture, in response to which the 'strong Hallelujahs' rolling from the congregants appear mindless. Their noise bounces ironically off the positive 'Sound' of line 4, the image Dickinson uses to suggest the way in which eternity may be known (210).
It is here wherein Emily Dickinson makes her social commentary. Not only does she advocate a personal relationship with God, but she actively derides those in the community who have cast aspersions on her character because she has stopped attending church. Because she does not go to services, the people of the community equate…