Study Guide

There's been a Death, in the Opposite House Stanzas 5-6

By Emily Dickinson

Stanzas 5-6

Stanza 5

And then the Milliner — and the Man
Of the Appalling Trade —
To take the measure of the House —
There'll be that Dark Parade —

  • But wait, there's more. It's like Grand Central Station in the opposite house: nonstop movement, arrivals and departures. 
  • After the Minister comes the Milliner and the Man, in an alliterative stream of callers. A milliner is a hat maker. Why he's come so quickly after a death is anybody's guess. Who needs a hat so soon? Maybe you'd need to outfit the corpse or you might want a new crepe veiled bonnet, but what's the rush? The stiff's not going anywhere.
  • Entering on his heels in this orderly sequence, the "Man" is said to be "of the Appalling Trade," flashing the first word of any kind of human emotion yet. 
  • What's this trade that is so appalling that it cannot be mentioned by name? Is this just a euphemism to avoid crass or plainer language in a poem? 
  • We're told he takes the measure of the House. Looks like he's the undertaker, sent to see how big a coffin he'll need, and whether it can fit through the doorway. Appalling might evoke the pallbearers (who will be part of the dark parade, maybe). 
  • What you might not know—but Dickinson probably did—is that "appalling" comes from the Latin word for "to make pale," as the undertaker was responsible for preparing the body right there in the home. 
  • Looking forward, the speaker assures us there will be the usual funeral procession, "that Dark Parade." This line spills over to the final stanza, in a forward momentum like the procession and this whole process itself.

Stanza 6

Of Tassels — and of Coaches — soon —
It's easy as a Sign —
The Intuition of the News —
In just a Country Town —

  • The dark parade—the funeral procession—will have all the usual pomp and ornamentation, tassels and couches. 
  • Following this description comes the speaker's commentary on the whole affair. The last three lines take a big ol' step back to view the "big picture." The speaker says that when there's a death, it's as easy as reading a sign to know what's usual, what is happening now, and what will happen soon. This is the regular course of things. 
  • You don't have to be a genius. This isn't rocket science, the speaker seems to saying. All you need is "intuition," or the immediate understanding of something without conscious thought. The word has at its root the Latin "intueri" which means to watch over. Hey, what do you know? He's been watching over this whole scene. 
  • More to the point, what does the speaker know? He knows the news from all the easy signs of the death he's just described. 
  • That's how it goes in country towns like this one, where not much happens and everybody is all up in everybody else's business anyway. Take a look at the word "just." It describes this very country town, but leave it to Dickinson to suggest the justice of all these happenings, following a death.

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