Study Guide

There's been a Death, in the Opposite House Personification

By Emily Dickinson

Personification

To one with a highly developed emotional life, such as that of Emily Dickinson, the whole world might seem to reflect her own responses—even inanimate objects. If you look at anything long enough, it can begin to take on human qualities. (Think of people and their dogs or cars.) This poem is about a house, but not really. The house is standing there, minding its own business, until a poet had to make something of it:

There's been a Death, in the Opposite House,
As lately as Today —
I know it, by the numb look
Such Houses have — always —
(1-4)

Death is in the house? Or has something in the house died? If you see the house as a person in which something inside has died, the poem becomes metaphorical as well as literal. How does the speaker know there's been a death? He says because he can see it in the "numb look" such houses have when someone or something dies. What might that numbness look like? Are its eyes or windows glassy and blank?

Another example:

and the Man
Of the Appalling Trade —
To take the measure of the House —
(17-19)

You can read this straight, that is, the undertaker is there to see how big the doorways are, so the coffin will fit through. But there are other metaphorical levels of reading here, too. You can see "the House" as the final abode of the dead, or the coffin. Or you can see the house as the corpse itself, the outer material shell.

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