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Dickinson's BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH It has been the general difficulty with critical exegeses of Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death-" that (1) "Death" and "Immortality" in the first stanza seem unaccountably syncopated, and (2) the "I first surmised the Horses' Heads/Were toward Eternity-" of the end of the poem remains equally enigmatically without derivation. I offer the following interpretive possibility. The crux of the poem's meanings, I suggest, is in the first two lines, "Because I could not stop for Death-/He kindly stopped for me-". We have tended mechanically to read this to mean that since the narrative subject of the poem finds herself rather too involved in the humdrum of living, with no thought of death, Death like a civil gentleman-suitor stops by in his chaise and four to take the busy -11- persona out for the final ride, paradoxically, to the accompaniment of "Immortality." I think the lines lead us into a simplistic literalness because of the deceptive surface. Read them as you would a prototypical "romantic" utterance and the problem begins to solve itself. To wit, translate the persona's not stopping for death into an imaginative perception of the nonreality of death. Death is death only to those who live within the time-bound finite world outside of the imaginative infinity of consciousness. That being so, the "stopped" of the second line takes on a profoundly rich ambiguity. Whereas clearly the metaphor of Death stopping by is to be retained as one level of courtship, more essentially, since the persona's consciousness has negated death, Death in turn stops, that is, ceases to be (the full richness of the initial "because" should now be apparent). And, appropriately, from that dialectic of consciousness is generated "Immortality." The rest of the poem carries forward the poetic journey through a necessary but obviously imagined framework of body-consciousness in which the "chill" of the "Setting Sun" is sensually rendered. ...read more.


In other terms, Jameson's theory forces him to see the literary text as a result, as the end product of the social and psychic forces his theory is calculated to account for. His inquiry stops at the textual element that for him is a result, but that is for the lay reader a beginning. He stops before the lexicon starts producing a syntax, the textual derivation that creates the comical effect of repetition and distortion. Once we understand this, we are equipped with the difference between linguistic and nonlinguistic communication that we need for a radical theory of literature. We are equipped with a relevant definition of timelessness. Instead of being once and for all the end of a process, the text is continuously the starting point of that process. It is an origin, a generator, always new, always creating, whenever the reader starts reading it. Always creating, because it is founded on a principle of transformation. The text is thus timeless, because it is always in the present time, because the reader's reaction to it will always consist in asking himself the same question: not what does this mean?, but what is this substituted for? what is lacking here?, and finally, what is it that replaces or fills out the lack? The answer can be given, but it is given by the difference between the past of the text's beginning and the later past of the text's ending. One clarifies the other, and indicates the range of the transformation, of the translation from a given into a derivation from that given. Let us now oppose a radical theory of literature to theories of the anamorphosis type. It differs from these in selecting as its focus not a principle of explanation borrowed from another larger system of reality, of which literature is only a part (like the human mind, as interpreted by psychoanalysis; or like society, as interpreted by Marxism), but a principle based on literature's ability to represent all other systems, all forms ...read more.


So his friends owe his success in defending them to poetry. 19 Some of his reasons border on vulgarity: Archias has celebrated Roman achievements in the past, and it is poetry that holds out the hope of future immortality for those now living. 20 But Cicero also perceives that poetry is valuable because of its intrinsic qualities. In a justly celebrated passage, he explains how literary education becomes a permanent part of the individual's inner life: Other occupations are not suitable for all times and places and ages; but these studies nourish youth and delight old age; they furnish the ornaments of prosperity and refuge and solace in adversity; they please at home without hindering us in public affairs; with us they pass long nights, lighten our journeys, and remain with us in the country. 21 What the Greek and Latin writers have left us, Cicero explains, are "distinct models of gallant men, not only for contemplation, but even for imitation." 22 The key phrase here is "distinct models" (imagines. . .expressas); that is, models or figures or images finely crafted or shaped or squeezed out. If they are also for imitation, they are initially for contemplation; and indeed, that is how they are imitated, by assimilation into our souls--into our rational and imaginative being through study and contemplation. We teach such works because they help us to discern the order and purpose in human existence. It is a paradox of our nature that we must learn from others to be what we are, to attain authentic individual freedom. An acquaintance with great literature is certainly no substitute for character, but it enhances the moral imagination and is a good thing in itself. The most valuable educational service we can offer our students, as they strive to find themselves, is, in Matthew Arnold's still acute phrase, "a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world." 23 ...read more.

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