Resurrecting Religious Debate

30 April 2014

Dickenson’s poems are characterized by their layering of meaning through her use of words with complementary and or competing meanings. Therefore, her poems can seldom be defined to mean one specific thing. Dickenson uses the word resurrection in her poems, “A Lady red—Amid the Hill,” “While it is alive,”  “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” and “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” (poems 74, 491, 608, and 876, respectively.) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resurrection can have many different meanings. Mainly, resurrection refers to the resurrection of Christ or of the resurrection of Christ’s followers at the judgment. Resurrection can come as the reference to the return of someone or something that has been forgotten or dormant. Emily Dickenson uses the connotations and denotations of the word resurrection to create complex meditations into the understanding of the sometimes contradictory Christian World View.

In poems 74, “A Lady red—amid the Hill” and 608, “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” Dickenson uses the word resurrection to refer to Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of the saints, the second coming of Christ,  and the idea of earthly renewal. In poem 74, the word resurrection performs double duty as a reference to both the new spring and the second coming of Christ. The images of spring are evidenced throughout the poem in the words lily, breeze, tree, orchard, buttercup, and bird (Dickenson 4-6, 11).  The red flower on top if the hill symbolizes the saving power of the blood of Christ, and the white flower symbolize purity (Dickenson 1, 2). The wind sweeps down from the hill bringing the connotations of saving blood and purity to give the hints of the coming of the spring (Dickenson 5-8). The lines “Prithee My pretty Houswives!/Who may expected be?” seem to point to these hints of coming spring as being a metaphor for the second coming of Christ (Dickenson 7-8). The lines “As if the Resurrection/Were nothing very strange!” reinforce the metaphor of spring renewal and make obvious the connection to Christ (Dickenson 15-16).

Poem 608 also has two meanings of the word resurrection, one of renewal and the other the resurrection of the saints. However, this poem relates resurrection to the morning sunrise as indicated in the lines, “Of Resurrection? Is the East/ Afaid to trust the Morn” (Dickenson 9-10). The lines, “In one or two existences—/As Deity decree—” show how God gets to choose whether or not the speaker is worthy of the resurrection (Dickenson 7-8). One existence refers to the mortal existence and the second existence refers to the existence after the resurrection that would only be available to the worthy. Therefore aside of the ideas of earthly renewal these two poems deal with the word resurrection in a religious fashion.

In poems 491, “While it is alive,” and 876, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” rely more heavily on the nonreligious aspects of the word resurrection. Poem 491, “While it is alive” uses a religious tone and the word resurrection as a metaphor to describe love. The first half of the poem uses religious ideas such as being of one blood and of one sacrament as an abstract way to describe what it is like to be in love (Dickenson 4-5). In the second half of the poem, the word love is repeated three times as the first word of the lines (Dickenson 7-9). On the final repetition of the word love come the lines, “Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection/Scooping up the Dust and chanting Live!” the intentional use of the words fellow of the resurrection rather than the word God or Christ adds credence to the idea of this poem as a description of secular love by minimizing the religious connotations using the word fellow. Fellow is often used informally to mean a lover which helps the idea that the poem is primarily about love, but fellow can be used to mean boy or man. Therefore, the fellow of the resurrection bears a striking resemblance to the phrase resurrection man, and According to the Oxford English Dictionary a resurrection man digs up dead bodies and sells them. This connection with the unsavory profession of grave digging only further shows that this dissonance was intended to draw the reader’s attention away from the religious interpretation of the word resurrection in this poem. Although the religious imagery in this poem is very strong, it is only used as a way to describe the powerful feeling of being in love.

Poem 876, “It was a grave, yet bore no Stone” uses the word resurrection both as a reference to digging up an unmarked grave and as a way of wondering about how the person ended up dead and buried outside of a graveyard. The lines, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone/Enclose ‘twas not a Rail” show that the body was not in a grave yard (Dickenson 1-2). Stone refers to a grave marker, and rail refers to a fenced in graveyard. Therefore, the body had no grave marker and it was not within a graveyard. The last stanza begins with a line about resurrection, and the last two lines, “A Rose upon its Ridge to sow/Or take away a Briar,” refers to what is known as a resurrection flower or the Rose of Jericho. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a resurrection flower curls up into a ball and goes into a state of hibernation until it receives the water that it needs to bloom again. Sowing the rose or taking away its briar refers to the question of whether or not any information can be found out about the person in the unmarked grave. Therefore, poems 491 and 876 explore resurrection as a metaphor for love and the act of uncovering hidden or lost information.

Emily Dickenson complicated use of the word resurrection is as confusing as it is enlightening. Emily Dickenson uses religious ideas in her poetry in complex and varied ways. In effect, her religiously themed poems are guided debates on the implications of Christian belief.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “A Lady Red—amid the Hill.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “While it is alive.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

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