As lately as Today —
I know it, by the numb look
Such Houses have — alway —
The Neighbors rustle in and out —
The Doctor — drives away —
A Window opens like a Pod —
Abrupt — mechanically —
Somebody flings a Mattress out —
The Children hurry by —
They wonder if it died — on that —
I used to — when a Boy —
The Minister — goes stiffly in —
As if the House were His —
And He owned all the Mourners — now —
And little Boys — besides —
And then the Milliner — and the Man
Of the Appalling Trade —
To take the measure of the House —
There'll be that Dark Parade —
Of Tassels — and of Coaches — soon —
It's easy as a Sign —
The Intuition of the News —
In just a Country Town —
F547 (1863) J389
Dickinson's sharp eye for detail makes this poem as vivid a slice of life as any Norman Rockwell painting. Various local characters make an appearance as the poet watches from her window. Neighbors come and go, some probably carrying casseroles or flowers as they do today. The doctor, his labors over, drives away in his no doubt important-looking carriage. Some servant throws open a window and "flings" out a mattress and of course the local children will be telling each other that just hours ago someone died on it.
My favorite is the minister. This is his moment and he makes an appropriate entrance – "As if the House were His / And He owned all the Mourners – now – / and little Boys – besides." Very droll, and no doubt the children scattered at his approach. Dickinson casts herself in this role, looking back to when she was a boy. It's a playful persona and boys had more freedom to run about than girls, so no wonder Dickinson adopts that vantage.
The milliner arrives to take measurements for an appropriate burial hat. At last the undertaker, he "Of the Appalling Trade", arrives to determine the size of the casket – the body's "House". Once the corpse is housed it will begin its "Dark Parade" as black-garbed mourners, the hearse and coaches full of mourners – many with black horses – head to the cemetery.
Who needs the Internet to find out what's going on? In a small town everyone knows what's going on.
Dickinson's observations are emotionally detached. She has nothing to say about the family or the deceased, no speculations, no formulations of grief or sympathy. She is simply recounting what happens on a day of death. Nothing is conventionally pleasant; even the house has a "numb" look. The window from which the mattress is flung opens abruptly and "mechanically". The minister and undertaker are not sympathetic characters, and of course the funeral procession is "Dark".
Even so, the poem is a pleasure to read. We feel the vicarious thrill of watching great drama enfold while ensconced in our own room. We can giggle at the minister, shudder at the undertaker, and nod knowingly at the familiarity of the scene. It is, perhaps, this very familiarity that allows life to go on smoothly all around.
In 1863, the year Dickinson wrote this poem, there would have been more funerals than usual because of young men who came home wounded from the war and didn't survive. But I don't think Dickinson is making a large point here.