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The Death-Motif in the Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti


Claudia Ottlinger

While Emily Dickinson as a forerunner of modern American poetry has met with a good critical response, Christina Rossetti is still regarded as a minor Victorian poet. Despite all their biographical, religious and poetic differences the comparative approach is appropriate for shedding new light on these two women's poetic output, which is preoccupied with death, and for displaying their cultural divergences as well as their transcultural affinities. Based on a new typology and with reference to 220 primary texts, this book highlights Dickinson's and Rossetti's supremely complex view of death, characterized by an enormous amount of shifting emphases and perspectives and focussing on the lyrical I that oscillates between fear and fascination, numb despair and welcome release.


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3. The phenomenon of death in Dickinson's and Rossetti's poetry 39


3. The phenomenon of death in Dickinson's and Rossetti's poetry 3.1 General characteristics of death: "the uncertain certainty" (Dickinson, 1411) "Holy slumber, holy quiet" (Rossetti, "Song (The stream moaneth as it floweth)") Death haunts Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti in many ways. By considering death from various angles, they try to show the discomfiture of man caught in the polarity of his situation. He is constantly tom between his anxiety of death as the absolute fmality of existence and his hunger for knowledge, his attempt to move toward a supreme understanding of the mystery of death. Death has always been a traditional theme for poetry. Whereas man glides into existence unconsciously and cannot reflect on his coming birth, both his own death and the deaths of his friends and relatives become issues on which he meditates throughout his life. But however much he tries to unlock the secret of death and searches for its meaning, he is doomed to failure. By changing in their moods and attitudes, Dickinson and Rossetti seek to display the complexity of the phenomenon of death, its inherent ambiguity, its multidimensional character and significance. From the traditional point of view, death is regarded as the 'great destroyer', the ultimate dread.l This notion of the absolute power of death to kill and crush and put an end to the process of existence also appals Emily Dickinson. The ruthlessness and cruelty of death is the theme of many of her poems. On death's vicious purpose she ponders in...

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