Compare and Contrast Themes of Death in Emily Dickinson’s ‘How Many Times These Low Feet Staggered’ and ‘the Only Ghost I Ever Saw’.

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Emily Dickinson, as a poetic writer, composed most of her works with the theme of death, the entirety of which can be categorised into three different periods of writings; the earliest mainly contained the themes of death and immortality, personifying death and elegiac poems and lacked the intensity and urgency of her later poems or their fascination with the physical aspects of death (VAN DAESDONK 2007). Because of Dickinson’s immense fascination with this subject it is interesting to compare her pieces against each other to see how her view of death changed over the years of her writing.

‘The Only Ghost I ever saw’, written in 1857-62, is an example of the earlier period of Dickinson’s writing. There are many different
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In contrast to the dreamy tone of the earlier poem, ‘How many times these low feet staggered’ has a distinctly more realistic and macabre tone to it. The mention of ‘flies’ gives us the image of decomposing meat as though the corpse were rotting which helps establish the more realistic side of what physically happens when a person dies, i.e their bodies rot. However the flies also clarify how monotonous the dead woman’s life and the tone of the poem is, as flies are known to continuously bang themselves against a window in their attempt to get out though them in what is obviously a futile effort which might have been what this woman’s life was like. The mention of the window also helps to create the idea that her death is the window of freedom she needed to finally escape such a droll life, emphasising the macabre tone by making death seem better than life.

The phonology of ‘The Only Ghost I ever saw’ is mainly used to create the atmosphere and help with the imagery of the Ghost. The first simile of the poem in line three shows the reader the qualities of the ghost; ‘stepped like flakes of snow’ showing that his footsteps were light and pure, the delicacy of ‘flakes of snow’ also links back to the line about his clothes being ‘Mechlin’ which is lace, a delicate and intricate material (VAN DAESDONK 2007). Also in this line is sibilance the ‘s’ sounds of the ‘flakes’,

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