Continuous immersion in different literary works within the genre of poetry has enabled me to develop critical thinking skills in relation to the assessment of a particular literary work. This may be seen as a result of the different works’ use of various literary techniques in presenting a particular point. Consider for example, Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” as well as W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”.
In the poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, Emily Dickinson uses textual imagery in order to combine the discussion of death in line with women’s place within society in relation to their position in a romantic relationship with men. As one initially reads the poem, one may arrive at the conclusion that the poem merely outlines a person’s journey through life as he begins his conscious experience of life during his childhood until the end of his days when he grows old. Within the poem, the speaker states, “We passed the school where children played…/We passed the fields of grazing grain/ We passed the setting sun. / Since then ‘tis centuries; but each/ Feels shorter than the day…/Were toward eternity” (Dickinson, 2007, p.279). If one is to relate the poem to Emily Dickinson’s critical stance regarding women’s position within society in relation to their relationships with men, a re-reading of the poem will show that Dickinson’s poem also offers a comparison between life and death in relation to marriage wherein the poem may be understood as stating that women who allow themselves to be placed within a marital relationship allow themselves to die.
A reassessment of the original meaning of the poem is also necessary as one rereads W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”. The initial reading of the poem may lead the reader to assume that the poem is merely presenting Auden’s description of the works in the Museum of Fine Arts. Within the poem, he states, “About suffering they were never wrong, / The Old Masters; how well they understood/ Its human position…/They never forgot/ That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course/ Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot” (Auden, 1995, p.92). One may thus be led to believe that the speaker is merely referring the consistent portrayal of suffering in the renowned works of art. A re-reading of the poem however shows that Auden’s poem presents his view regarding the ironic characteristic of the ideals of mankind and reality. This is evident if one considers that the poem alludes not merely to the death of Icarus in Brueghel’s painting but also to the death of Christ. He states, “(W)hen the aged are reverently, passionately waiting/ For the miraculous birth, there always must be/ Children who did not specially want it to happen” (Auden, 1995, p.92). The ideals of humanity, in the poem, were depicted in the death of Christ whereas reality as is was depicted in Icarus’ death. The irony in the situation is evident since within reality [as portrayed in the death of Icarus] suffering is shunned and unrecognized whereas the ideal situation [as represented in the death of Christ] suffering is praised and revered.
Auden, W.H. (1995). Musee des Beaux Arts. 100 Best-Loved Poems. Eds. P. Smith & E. Hammond. London: Courier Dover Publications.
Dickinson, E. (2007). Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Studies in Poetry. Ed. N. Doubleday. Np: Read Books.