Teacher Diaries: Mr Alvin – The Poem I Love

Death is often considered to be a taboo subject in our culture. I still remember how evasive my parents used to be when I asked them questions about death. Embarrassed, they would simply divert my attention to something else. Among ourselves, we often use ambiguous words to express that someone has died, like “he or she is gone”. Death is simply not a welcoming discussion topic.

Back in the 19th century, a poet, Emily Dickinson, had already been more liberal than us towards death. Death is one of the common themes in her poems, and she shows no embarrassment or evasiveness when trying to express her thoughts on death. Instead of fearfully waiting for death, she boldly embraces it. Her image of death is often warm, positive and even romantic.

Let’s take a look of one of her poems:

Because I could not stop for Death

Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Instead of a haunting skeleton man who holds a scythe, ready to cut short our lives, death here is personified as a kind gentleman who is inviting us on a romantic journey in a carriage, like one we might find in fairy tales. Such an accepting attitude towards death is why I love Dickinson’s poems the most.

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