Parting, Emily Dickinson – an analysis


Do you mean like… to the side? Or strictly down the middle?

Gut Reaction
OH. No, that’s not what you meant AT ALL. It’s a little bit more in depth than that! Two Big Things have happened that have been all-encompassing and we’re expecting a third disaster? I like it already!

What does it all mean?
MY LIFE closed twice before its close;
Two devastating, or life-altering events have happened in my life that haven’t actually resorted in my death, even if they might have felt like it at the time.

It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
Hmm. It appears that the author is being a glass-half-empty-kinda-thinker, and I can understand that sometimes. It’s like she is saying, well, two bad things have happened and I can’t quite trust there not to be another awful event in my future. I like the ‘Immortality unveil’, written as though Immortality is a group rather than an entity. I don’t know why but I thought immediately of Greek gods when I saw this. A though it’s a range of maladies overseeing the author’s life, rather than one vengeful god.

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
These things that happened to me were so vast, so unbelievable to understand or accept that they would happened – and that TWO bad things of such magnitude should happen is still unbelievable.

Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
Wow. I love this final couplet. Honestly, this is beautiful. We hear that heaven’s a good place to be, right? But it always ends in us being parted from those that we love. And likewise, we hear such awful things about hell, but parting is a bad enough aspect of hell for us to experience, that we don’t need any more to make us feel we’re going through hell.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Two quatrains, there is no ‘order’ as such, just a sort of repeated stating of the author’s feelings.

It’s kind of… tense? Or… intense? Poised for More Drama.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
Immortality – whatever not-so-benevolent force is looking down on the author? Or fate?
Parting – death, since that really is the final parting-provider, isn’t it?

Author’s relationship with their subject
They seem to approach fate as though it were a viper about to strike. Can’t say I blame them!

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
There’s a general consensus that death is the metaphor here, and that there were two catastrophic events that felt like a death during the life of the person speaking. I say that because there’s also a lot of speculation as to what those two life events might be if it is really biographical.

Also, other analyses point to the view of the final couplet as heaven for those that have passed but hell for those that have been left behind.

Signing off
This poem may be a short one but it is powerful, isn’t it? In eight lines, you sympathise, empathise, and mourn for the character and their loss – whatever their losses have been they have seemed like deaths. There’s a tinge of mistrust that the worst is behind them now, like they’re poised and ready for a third catastrophy, even if they’re probably not – wouldn’t you be close to breaking if you were in their shoes? I know I would.

The final couplet really is so very poignant in what it is saying. Because however you look at it, parting might be a relief or reprieve for the person going but the one that’s left behind is going to feel nothing but loss. And therefore, parting must be the worst part of reaching heaven, whilst parting is also so painful that it’s the only taste of hell we need to know that hell is real – whatever your idea of hell is.

Emily Dickinson’s work is the kind that creeps up on you unannounced; you think huh, that’s a good one, and then oh I really like that, and then you don’t read any for a while, then something like this one comes and slaps you around the face. Just… I am a renewed fangirl for Emily Dickinson!



Poets Org

When I read this I think of the song… Come Back, because there’s never going to need to be an excuse to listen to Pearl Jam but this one fits 🙂


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