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Thread: Emily Dickinson "The Last Night That She Lived"

  1. #1

    Emily Dickinson "The Last Night That She Lived"

    I'm having a bit trouble analyzing this poem I was hoping u guyz cud help. The poem is pasted below. To me when i read it, the poem seems to b abt a female who died and the family or people close to her are reminiscing.

    THE LAST night that she lived,
    It was a common night,
    Except the dying; this to us
    Made nature different.

    We noticed smallest things,—
    Things overlooked before,
    By this great light upon our minds
    Italicized, as ’t were.

    That others could exist
    While she must finish quite,
    A jealousy for her arose
    So nearly infinite.

    We waited while she passed;
    It was a narrow time,
    Too jostled were our souls to speak,
    At length the notice came.

    She mentioned, and forgot;
    Then lightly as a reed
    Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
    Consented, and was dead.

    And we, we placed the hair,
    And drew the head erect;
    And then an awful leisure was,
    Our faith to regulate.


    The 2nd stanza seems to b like the family noticed things they never did before as one does after he/she loses something of theirs. Could someone please explain the line "By this great light upon our minds, Italicized, as ’t were." Im abit confused abt this.
    The 3rd stanza seems to b saying that they were jealous of other ppl and their families, how they lived and this person close to them had to pass away.
    Im really confused abt the 4th stanza, wt do they mean by narrow time?little time?
    Again 5th and 6th stanza im totally confused abt. Is this poem a free verse or a blank verse? Can feet be counted here? I counted 3,3,3,2 feet in the first stanza. Also is this poem a iambic, trochaic, dactylic, anapestic or spondiac? AS you can see im a bit confused, ne help wud b much appreciated thx. Umm cud it b that EMily Dickinson is actually writing about herself here? Saying what life would be like if she had passed away. What does "quite" mean in "while she must finish quite"? Am I completely off on all my analysis.

    Thx in advance

  2. #2
    Hello, Azn, welcome to the forum; and thank you for posting this Dickinson poem - I love this one!
    Firstly, to answer a few direct questions:
    Quote Originally Posted by Azn
    Also is this poem a iambic, trochaic, dactylic, anapestic or spondiac?
    This really depends on any accents and countings of syllables, but I read the poem in the rhythm of an iambic verse; especially at the beginnings of the lines, an unstressed syllable (short) often introduces a stressed syllable (long). For example: "Italicized, as t'were."
    Quote Originally Posted by Azn
    Umm cud it b that Emily Dickinson is actually writing about herself here? Saying what life would be like if she had passed away.
    Absolutely. In many of her unpublished works, as she published a mere seven poems during her life, Dickinson very frequently wrote of her own death, and rarely of others' (for example "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"); when she did write of others' death, she often attributed it to herself, as in a simile or metaphor. I, personally, would like to think she wrote of viewing herself passing away, as if witnessing the event from an observer's perspective.
    Quote Originally Posted by Azn
    What does "quite" mean in "while she must finish quite"? Am I completely off on all my analysis.
    Dickinson often rhetorically phrased her poetry in strange ways. "Quite" seems added only to rhyme with "infinite" in, perhaps, her traditional accent. An interesting oxymoron: much of Dickinson's work consists of inconsistency; as you can see, she intriguingly did not continue the ballad rhyme throughout the poem, which she made famous, along with her creatively used dashes, commas, and semi-colons always used in seemingly random places. For that line, a reader could omit "quite" at the end of the line, and still retain the same meaning.
    I think I should include my second comments in another message.

  3. #3
    Now to the poem itself:
    The last night that she lived,
    It was a common night,
    Except the dying; this to us
    Made nature different.
    This stanza merely states the obvious as an introduction, and prepare the reader for "coming attractions," so to speak. I find "this to us / Made nature different" especially interesting, and to have a very subjective understanding attributed to it; Dickinson blatantly emphasizes the dichotomy between life and death, its difference making not "a common night," but experiencing death to her something unimagineable, beyond the living's understanding and cognition - beyond their "nature," life and death being opposites.
    We noticed smallest things,—
    Things overlooked before,
    By this great light upon our minds
    Italicized, as ’t were.
    This stanza speaks loudly of symbolism. I encourage any reader to stress his/her mind on the often usual occurences during death, for example, silence, darkness, relaxation; and when does one "notice smallest things," but during such times as corresponding activities, like reflecting thoughts, meditation, and anything sacred. To Dickinson, then, death seemed sacred, practically divine, and considered its dark inspiration a "light upon our minds."
    Like you, Azn, I also stumble on the last line of this stanza, "Italicized, as 't were." My only interpretation: by "italicized," Dickinson implies being distinguished, different, and unique; the "great light upon our minds" from death's occurrence proved distinguished from any other experience of life, of course.
    That others could exist
    While she must finish quite,
    A jealousy for her arose
    So nearly infinite.
    This, in my opinion, seems the most abstract and baffling of all stanzas in this particular work. By existence, I think Dickinson implies 'living'; so that others could continue living while her consciousness ended (which consists of all conscious awareness, senses, thinking, etc.) seems perplexing. Who could imagine the end of consciousness while remaining conscious? No one.
    The last two lines remind me much of Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, and later repeated by Michel de Montaigne, as they wrote that happiness comes at the perfection of virtue, but only at death. Perhaps, Dickinson intends that the "jealousy" derives from the want of the believed happiness attained at death that stretches "So nearly infinite."
    We waited while she passed;
    It was a narrow time,
    Too jostled were our souls to speak,
    At length the notice came.
    This stanza, I think, summarizes the obvious: she died, and by that event, each person felt so impacted, inspired, and amazed with what occurred, it took additional, "narrow" time for everyone to comprehend it ("At length the notice came.").
    She mentioned, and forgot;
    Then lightly as a reed
    Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
    Consented, and was dead.
    This stanza also reads as quite obscure and peculiar with the first skim, but its language goes further in depth of her death. Her speech, memory, and thinking faculties diminished ("She mentioned, and forgot"), until she teetered on the brink, and finally fell "lightly as a reed" (a simple simile), while "bent to the water," and "shivered scarce" only continues the simile that, despite her unpleasant loss of faculties, she died gracefully.
    And we, we placed the hair,
    And drew the head erect;
    And then an awful leisure was,
    Our faith to regulate.
    In this concluding stanza, Dickinson admits her very unique beliefs and perceptions on death. Merely, the witnesses let her body rest, then, for making company of the majority of others who would have to cope with the woman's death, the witnesses suppressed their inspiration and intrigued intuition (their "faith") derived from the deceased. As any reader may see, Emily Dickinson shared very disparate views on life and death from her peers, and society in present; and by these last lines, a reader may see that she felt aware of that fact, often "regulating" her expression.

  4. #4
    Wow that was alot of help, I cant thank you enough.

    I am just confused at your explanation of the last stanza, could you plz further explain it. Exactly how did they suppress inspiration and intrigue intuition from the deceased.

    Thx again

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Azn
    I am just confused at your explanation of the last stanza, could you plz further explain it. Exactly how did they suppress inspiration and intrigue intuition from the deceased.
    Hello again, Azn. I apologize that my interpretation of the last stanza did not seem clear. I will try to further explain my reasonings.
    And we, we placed the hair,
    And drew the head erect;
    And then an awful leisure was,
    Our faith to regulate.
    To me, the first two lines read as relatively clear; the witnesses of the character's death (who, we find, could prove as Dickinson writing of herself) merely prepare the corpse for whatever comes next - probably a funeral and burial.
    The last two lines, I think, seem much more complex, and its interpretation, I think, a reader can perceive entirely subjectively. In essence, with Dickinson's very unique perspective on mortality, considering her era of writing. The characters in the poem who witnessed the death, as expressed in former stanzas, found her passing as an experience unlike any other, and felt very darkly inspired; they had experienced the transcendence of life to death - nature's biggest mystery, which few people have the advantage/disadvantage to see. The witnesses clearly saw the 'advantage' side of it, finding the experience depressingly intriguing, unlike others, for obvious reasons.
    So as to hide their optimistic feelings and intuitions (the oxymoron of line 3: "awful leisure"), the characters felt to suppress their inspired feelings (their "faith") from the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, out of fear of deviant judgments from others - their peers, most likely (hence, their "faith to regulate" - to regulate the expression of their faith to others).
    Dickinson, I have no doubt, often struggled with this same aspect. Having a number of close relatives and friends die during her lifetime, her father in particular, I imagine she kept many of her meditations on death to herself, and on paper.
    Hopefully I have explained my ideas a little better, Azn, and I wish you the best of luck. For now, I also remain open to anyone else's interpretations.

  6. #6
    Thx a million, youve bin a gr8 help.

    Thx again

  7. #7

    Smile Confused and relieved at the same time...

    Im in the 10th grade and i am in a writing class...i was looking for some edgar allen poe poems and then thought to myself..''hey why not try emily dickesin'' and so i did...and as i searched i came apon this poem on a website i found.I saw this poem and i decided i would write about it.I have to write in a journal every week and at the end of the week i have to read it to the class..well anyways..i read this poem over and over and i just couldnt figure out what it ment...so i was very fortunate to find this forum, and this post explaining what it means..BUT! im still confused..and with only tonight to finish my journal, i have to explain it in my own words..i just thought i (wow i wrote alot) might as well share this with you people...

  8. #8
    oh and might i add that i have very bad spelling for some one who wants to consider bieng a writer in the future..so bare with me..thankx..

  9. #9

    Hello mono

    Hello mono I'm not sure if you still read this forum but if you do I would like to know what you make of Emily's punctuations marks throughtout the poem she uses many - in your work and alot in this piece of work and also seems to capitalize words I'm sure this is not just random it must have a higher meaning I was hoping you could help me with that. I understand the - is the longest pause in poetry what purpose do you belive they serve?

    Any input would be much appreciated.

    -Alec

    If you would like to see the actual poem in its entirety here is a link to the actually work word for word line for line:
    http://www.repeatafterus.com/title.p...547914e7c52288
    Last edited by Alec; 10-23-2006 at 03:42 AM.

  10. #10
    Registered User
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    Hi there
    I think the interesting thing about Emily Dickinson IS that she uses such sporadic punctuation and capitalisation. Try reading the poem out loud. Think of the dashes as moments to think, pause or reflect. Think of the words that are capitalised having some added importance. I am an actor and spend much time analysing texts of all kinds, including poetry, and find that usually, when you read the text aloud taking into consideration things like capitalisation, punctuation etc, that you begin to get a clearer picture of what the writer was thinking as they wrote. For someone like Emily Dickinson to use punctuation, it is quite a statement, because she seems so unpredictable, therefore, try focusing on the last word before the point of punctuation, often this word is of great importance and can sum up the idea that she has been writing about. I hope that is helpful and gives you somewhere to work from.
    all the best

    p.s. you also might find it interesting to circle all the capitalised words, see if there's a common thread through them or even if you can get the general gist of the poem through those words. If they are emphasised in any way by the writer, it's usually for a reason, perhaps they are the images that are most clear and important to her.
    Last edited by a_blessyou; 10-29-2006 at 03:04 AM.

  11. #11
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    Smile

    Thank you mono!!

    Your comments were partly quoted as following in my Korean translation of one of Dickinson's poetry on my blog (blog.daum.net/kimzi-122) this morning...!!!

    ----(notes):
    - italicized:
    ... by "italicized," Dickinson implies being distinguished, different, and unique; ...(by mono)
    (※ Emily Dickinson "The Last Night That She Lived" - Literature ...
    http://www.online-literature.com/for...ead.php?t=4280

  12. #12
    First Post

    Has anyone come up with a central theme for this amazing poem? I for one cannot come up with one.
    Thanks in advance.

  13. #13
    thanks for this analysis it really helped me for my presentation

  14. #14
    missmuse MeofMe's Avatar
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    A stanza was missing below, and part of it confused me so I thought I'd posted it and request comments.

    As We went out and in
    Between Her final Room
    And Rooms were Those to be alive
    Tomorrow were, a Blame

    What does she mean by: "Tomorrow were, a Blame"?
    Thx <3
    “Like rain on a cold window, these thoughts pattered against the hard surface of the incontrovertible truth.” - J.K. Rowling

  15. #15
    Poetry keeps me sane Sumaya's Avatar
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    Perhaps links in withe the idea of this 'Jelousy' they felt for her (to die), or she for them (for living on)?

    More interesting is the fact she says 'out and in' rather than 'in and out' - suggesting life really revolved around the dying that was taking place in the room, rather than going 'in' then 'out'.
    Words speak volumes compared to the silence of the sword

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