In 1859 Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about death. In 1861 she rewrote that poem with very different imagery making it a lot darker. The poem itself is rather short, only two stanzas. The first stanza is only changed by one word, though its meaning is significant. The second stanza however changes completely, from light and spring like to dark and wintery. There is also significant change in punctuation and additional dashes in the second piece. This is a classic characteristic of Emily Dickinson writing and since she never explained it to anyone before her death we can only take a guess as to what it really means. In the 1859 version she writes, “Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection”. In the 1861 version it is changed to “Lie the meek members of the Resurrection-“ . She immediately changes the tone of the poem from being at peace with death and awaiting the resurrection to just being there, not waiting for anything and unaware of what is happening. The word “Lie” completely cancels the notion of Resurrection in the second piece. Further changes in the first stanza are only in use of punctuation and capitalization. Though it is unclear what Dickinson means by it. The ending of the first stanza in the 1859 version says; “Rafter of satin, And roof of stone.” In the 1861 version she ends with “Rafter of Satin- and Roof of Stone!” I feel that in the second version she is ending with much more emotion and putting much more emphasis on the location of the deceased.
She seems to be much more impatient or irritated. Maybe due to the fact that these “meek” or humble people are lying in such a nice place that is not only made of white marble, but also covered in satin and stone which in the time of this poem being written would be a symbol of wealth and power. In the 1859 version of the poem, Dickinson personifies death with images from spring. Spring is the time of rebirth and resurrection. It is a part of nature and the natural cycle of things. The person or persons that are dead in the 1859 version were once wise people, “Ah, what sagacity perished here!” They can no longer hear the babbling of the bees or piping of sweet birds. There is no indication of time or who is dead in this version either. When Dickinson rewrites the poem in 1861, she names the fallen as doges. Doges were chief magistrates in Venice in the very early part of Venetian history. Their Diadems have fallen, meaning their power and dignity, have fallen with death. “Soundless as dots- on a Disc of Snow-“ Death is personified with images from winter. Winter is the end, dark and cold, with no sign of rebirth or life. No babbling bees or piping birds in winter, just silence and death. Making the overall tone of the poem a lot darker than the first version. Another major difference you will notice with the two poems is the image of Heaven. In the 1859 version there is no clearly portrayed image of Heaven.
“Light laughs the breeze In her Castle above them-“ The person who has died is “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers-“ as the world continues on into spring above them. It is again portraying resurrection and rebirth with images from spring time. In the later version however, “Worlds scoop their Arcs- And Firmaments-row” is clearly describing Heaven in the sky as being where the deceased is, and the world has stopped in winter as if it all ends with death. There is no resurrection, after death you move on and “Grand go the Years” after you are gone. As you can see these two poems by Emily Dickinson are very much the same yet also very different. Perhaps it is because of personal changes in her life and her beliefs. Maybe it has to do with changing political atmosphere and the start of the civil war. The changes show a difference in belief when it comes to resurrection and rebirth as well as a change in her belief of Heaven. The changes in punctuation and capitalization show she is more impatient and maybe even more formal in the later version. It seems to me the second writing of the poem is much more emotionally charged than the first.
Courtney from Study Moose
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