In the history of mankind, many of the greatest artists, authors and inventors have shared their unique genius with the masses. Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Edison’s names will never be forgotten due to the essential contributions they have made to their cultures, as well as to future eras. Was their work simply spontaneous or did it come to fruition through utter inspiration? What inspires this exquisite type of greatness?
Religion, love, education, parental upbringing and even the natural surroundings can all be considered excellent motivators for developing new and original ideas, which perhaps were the basis for our history’s greatest. But of course, there are those who are provoked by something much less congenial. Can negative influences create a similar result, and equally, can agony inspire greatness as well?
In the case of Emily Dickinson, this question can be obviously and affirmatively answered. Dickinson, a shut-in, who never married seemed to be highly inspired by her own depression and insecurities, throughout the majority of her pieces. Much of her work denotes feelings of sadness and despair, but even these negative stimuli have allowed her to become one of the most famous American poets.
In her piece I died for Beauty – but was scarce, Dickinson describes herself situated in the afterlife. The imagery of her post earthly life is seen throughout the poem, utilizing her brilliantly crafted words to paint a vivid picture for the audience.
This piece of art relays the feelings that Dickinson had regarding the nature of her death as well as the preservation of her memory on earth. Additionally, the poem can be curiously juxtaposed with the actual accomplishments that she experienced in her life as well as the greatness she achieved after it.
Dickinson’s creative, but bleak imagery is immediately seen in the poem as she uses a stark type of wording to create a dreary illustration of her now eternal resting place. The second line in stanza one, Adjusted in the Tomb, portrays this disparity. In contrast to the heavenly portrait that Dickinson may have conceived in her mind, the dark tomb is obviously not what was she had expected for the afterlife. Here, she is forever trapped in a solemn grave, unable to find escape. The fact that the word “Room” is capitalized, emphasizes the permanency of the situation, which reinforces that Dickinson’s perception of a dismal afterlife is unavoidable. Additionally, as seen in the last two lines of the first stanza, “When One who died for Truth, was lain/In an adjoining Room-“, Dickinson is forced to realize that this dismal existence is not unique to herself, but also shared with at least one other, in an adjacent room.
The fact that these partners in death both died in vain, continues Dickinson’s themes of depression and hopelessness, but additionally offers to the idea of achieving greatness. Both of the cast-away souls confess their lively pursuits, “I died for Beauty – but was scarce” and “And I – for Truth – Themselves are One”, allowing them to equally discover that their efforts served as futile, made obvious by their eternally entombed states. Additionally, taking into context Dickinson’s religious upbringing, their dying in vain seems to negate the greatness that can be acquired in martyrdom.
Later in the poem, Dickinson’s expressive imagery can again be noted in the last two lines of the final stanza, “Until the Moss had reached our lips -/And covered up – our names -“. These meticulously chosen words immediately relay a depressing realization for the poet. Here, Dickinson is conveying the idea that after time has passed and after the sadness of losing a loved one has been abated, their memory will be ultimately lost. The “moss” signifies that Dickinson is paralyzing time with the emergence of this overgrowth. If this overgrowth is able to engulf the headstone, as seen in the subtext of her chosen words, then so is time able to “erase” the memory of those since passed.
The reality regarding her personal prophecy, as seen in this poem, is yet another reinforcement to the idea that greatness is available in many different forms. Throughout Dickinson’s life, a large amount of her work had not been published or even read by a substantial audience, but as is unfortunately common, her work was not fully appreciated or celebrated until after her death. This unknown acquisition of greatness was similarly experienced (or actually not experienced) by many of history’s greats. Shakespeare’s work was not heralded until much after his demise as well as the work of many other infamous artists and writers.
In this piece, she appeared to be confident in the fact that her accomplishments would not account towards much, and again that she had a perception of her afterlife as described in the piece, as being dismal and inescapable.
After ingesting the entire piece, it is possible that during her last hours she may have unknowingly cast her accomplishments to the wayside, engulfing herself in a final moment of sadness. Whether this is the case, her talent has endured for more than 100 years and is still considered a staple in literature.