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03 July 2011

Morns like these—we parted—

Morns like these—we parted—
Noons like these—she rose—
Fluttering first—then firmer
To her fair repose.

Never did she lisp it—
It was not for me—
She—was mute from transport—
I—from agony—

Till—the evening nearing
One the curtains drew—
Quick! A Sharper rustling!
And this linnet flew!
                                                     - F18 (1858)


Dickinson was sometimes called upon to sit at bedsides, often of women who were dying and then at their deathbed. It would not be considered appropriate for a person to die or lie in death unattended, so often friends and family would take turns. Emily wrote in a later poem that she liked 'a look of Agony, / Because I know it's true," From this and other poems and sources we know she was a close observer of death.
     Here she recounts the death of a woman that took place in late morning--an ordinary morning "like these". By noon the woman was on her way to "repose"--whether Dickinson means the rest of the tomb or the rest in Paradise she doesn't say. But the woman never seems to have lost composure, never had to "lisp" or stutter out her pain or fear. Instead, she was silent--in a state of "transport," a word with the doubled meaning of both intense emotion and conveyance. The poet was silent, too, but because of the agony of watching the woman die.
     Later in the day, however, the soul departs, rustling through the newly-drawn curtains. When Dickinson says "And this linnet flew!" it is a cry of joy on behalf of the soul. Linnets were caged song birds popular in Dickinson's day and referenced in the poems of Tennyson and Wordsworth. So the final image is that of a caged bird flying to freedom.
    As in many of Dickinson's poems, the point of this is transformation, particularly of the soul. The choice of a bird is conventional as birds have long symbolized the spirit. 

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