Study Guide

Emily Dickinson Death

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The last decade of Emily Dickinson's life was marked by death and loss. In 1874, her father Edward died of a stroke in Boston. Emily stayed upstairs in her room while the funeral service took place in the living room below. In 1882, her mother died. The year after that, her favorite nephew Gilbert died And the year after that, her friend and maybe-boyfriend Judge Lord died as well.

Soon it was the poet's turn. On 15 May 1886, after battling a kidney disease now known as nephritis, Emily Dickinson died at The Homestead, the house in which she was born. She was buried in a white dress, her casket carried across a field of buttercups before being laid to rest in Amherst's town cemetery. After her death, her sister Lavinia discovered the books that Emily had been carefully filling with poems—forty volumes, containing more than 800 poems. They were published for the first time in 1890 and have been wildly popular ever since.

Today we tend to see the color white as a symbol of virginity and innocence. Maybe we'd understand Emily Dickinson better if we remembered that she saw it as passion.

Dare you see a soul at the white heat?
Then crouch within the door;
Red is the fire's common tint,
But when the vivid ore

Has sated flame's conditions,
Its quivering substance plays
Without a color, but the light
Of unanointed blaze.

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