Religion and spirituality can affect different people’s lifestyles in different ways. In the case of Emily Dickinson, her religion affected her writing. Emily Dickinson seemed to have written her poems based by religious influence; the poems “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church” and “Because I could not stop for Death” are both examples of how religion influenced her poetry. Emily Dickinson did not at all have a sort of a rough upbringing or childhood, as it was in fact, very pleasant for the most part.
She was born on December 10th 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. The town she had grown up in, coincidentally, was noted as a center of education, based on the Amherst College. Her family was very well-known in the community, so her childhood home was often used as a meeting place for visitors. In school, Emily was known for being a very intelligent student, and could create original rhyming stories to entertain her other classmates. She loved to read, and was extremely conscientious about her work (Tejvan par.
2-4). However, Emily Dickinson’s father was extremely strict. He was determined to bring up his children in an extremely proper way, causing his daughter to both hate and love him at the same time. He would censor the types of books allowed in the house; any books that were found to be too inappropriate would have to be smuggled in the house without his knowing. Emily described it as “his heart was pure and terrible” (Tejvan par. 4). Because of these actions, Emily was extremely respectful to both her father and other older male figures. However, she still loved her father in every way she could, and wished to be the best daughter she could ever possibly be (Tejvan par. 2-4). After her childhood, Emily Dickinson lived isolated from the world for the remainder of her life. Despite her remote lifestyle, Dickinson still actively read and still communicated with people with whom she felt the need to keep in contact. Her brother moved in next door to her after attending law school and marrying his wife. Her younger sister followed Emily’s example and also lived in almost complete isolation at her home. Her siblings and brother’s spouse acted as both family and companions during Dickinson’s lifetime (“Emily Dickinson – Poets.org” par. 2).
At the time of Dickinson’s life, there was a “revival of evangelical Christianity” (Tejvan par. 2). Because of this, she would rarely refuse to tell people she was Christian, making her religious views hard to explain. However, Emily Dickinson defined herself as a pagan, and her religious views had a very strong influence on her poetry. As a Calvinist, Dickinson was brought up to believe that men were undoubtedly sinful and that most of humanity was doomed to hell. A small portion of humans would be saved, however, and throughout her life, there was an increasing pressure for Emily Dickinson to announce herself as the saved. Regardless, she never deemed herself saved, causing her to be seen as an outcast from the rest of her peers (Tejvan par. 2-5). At a first look at her poems, it would seem that she was an atheist, or just has a “lack of spiritual inclination” (Sumangali par. 2). Dickinson did not pay much attention, or was not able to grasp religious doctrine such as original sin. Emily Dickinson did attend church regularly, and the sermons she attended influenced her poetry. While she did not have identical beliefs to those surrounding her, Dickinson had a faith in her own spirituality, making her seem to have more knowledge of God than the people around her. She did not claim to fully understand God, or to have faith in all of His ways. Nonetheless, she did not fear God, or fear being sent to Hell (Sumangali par. 1-10). Therefore, she was not as religious-obsessed as the people around her. This could also explain why she lived in isolation, because as everyone else was caught up in trying to be saved, she was living out her life the way she wanted. Dickinson’s religious and spiritual outlooks are reflected in her poetry.
The poem “Because I could not stop for Death” is one of Dickinson’s many poems influenced by her religion. In this poem, Dickinson is trying to depict herself from beyond the grave, as if she has already died. She describes how she was too caught up in her own life to be stopped by death; hence the title of this work. It also explains that she, unlike the people around her who are so focused on being saved by God when they die, was so busy with everything else to care. The first stanza in the poem, “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me / The Carriage held but just Ourselves / And Immortality” (“Because I could not stop for Death” 1-4), describes death practically picking up the author in a carriage with just themselves and immortality. Then in the second stanza, Death’s civility is Dickinson explaining that Death is teaching her to give up all of the things that had made her busy, so she could enjoy the ‘ride’ to the end of her life. The third stanza is Emily Dickinson explaining all of the things in the world that she is leaving behind, some that she was toopreoccupied to notice before. The transitions she uses between the stanzas, are of her leaving the old world and entering a different, gloomier one: “We passed the Setting Sun / Or rather – He passed us” (“Because I could not stop for Death” 12-13). In this stanza, she finally realizes that she is dead and her past life is gone. Her death becomes a bit physical too, with her describing her gown and the chill outside, and the same in the next stanza. The final stanza describes what Dickinson meant by Immortality in the beginning of the poem. She describes how, even though it had been centuries since she died, to her it only feels like a day (Cullina, Chainani, et al par.7-14). In this poem, Dickinson gives death a personality, and the personality she gives death reflects the personality she gives to God. She portrays death as a journey after a busy life, which lasts an eternity but does not feel very long at all. Another one of Emily Dickinson poems, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”, more literally relates to her view and practices of religion by describing faith.
The first stanza in Dickinson’s poem talks about how different people keep their religious views alive. She says that “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church / I keep it, staying at Home” (“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church” 1-2). She describes that in going to the Sabbath, they are giving their faith to the Lord. She then goes on to say, that by staying home and worshipping God at home is keeping her faith and relationship with God in a more real and alive way. In the following stanza, she describes how some people wear their robes to prove their righteousness to God and the faith, while Dickinson does not need to prove her faith to others, she proved to herself enough how much God means to her, and does not need to try and prove her love of God to everyone else. This stanza helps explain that a person who has to convince others that they are true to God means that their inner self does not agree that they are as faithful as they really should be. Someone who is truly faithful to God would not have to brag or show it off to the rest of the world, but they would know inside of themselves that however they act they will be sent up to heaven. The final stanza explains that God is always preaching, but the sermon is not the type heard at Church. He preaches every day and going to mass will not affect how He preaches. No matter if a person is faithful in others eyes or not, she explains that there is not any doubt of His undying love for His truly good, and faithful people. Emily Dickinson uses her poem to say that it is not necessary show off a person’s faith to others, to be rewarded with heaven. She says that true believers do not have to show off to the world the fact that they are going to heaven by wearing robes, attending mass, and declaring themselves “saved”. The true believers know that they are going all along, whether they prove it to everyone else or not (“Exposing the Hypocrisy of Religion in Emily Dickinson’s Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” par. 1-6). As religion has a strong influence on many people’s lifestyles, Emily Dickinson’s religion and her true spirituality had a strong influence on her poetry. Two of her poems, “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church” and “Because I could not stop for Death” are both examples of how religion influenced her poetry.
Cullina, Alice, Soman Chainani, and et al. “Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of “Because I could not stop for Death”” GradeSaver. N.p., 26 Jul 2009. Web. 30 Apr 2012. Dickinson, Emily. Some Keep The Sabbath Going to Church. Johnson, Thomas H. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Back Bay Books, 30 Jan 1976. Print. Dickinson, Emily. Because I could not stop for Death. Johnson, Thomas H. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Back Bay Books, 30 Jan 1976. Print. “Emily Dickinson – Poets.org”. Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 10 Apr 2012. “Exposing the Hypocrisy of Religion in Emily Dickinson’s Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”. 123HelpMe.com. 30 Apr 2012 Pettinger, Tejvan R. “Emily Dickinson Biography”. BiographyOnline. N.p., 26 June 2006. Web. 10 Apr 2012. “The Spirituality of Emily Dickinson”. Sumangali. N.p., 10 May 2008. Web. 10 Apr 2012.
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