It gains the Block — and now — it gains the Door —
Chooses its latch, from all the other fastenings —
Enters — with a "You know me — Sir"?
Simple Salute — and Certain Recognition —
Bold — were it enemy — Brief — were it friend —
Dresses each House in Crape, and Icicle —
And Carries one — out of it — to God —
F556 (1863) J390
The one visitor who cannot be denied entry, whose arrival cannot be postponed, is Death. Dickinson continues in the Gothic vein from the previous poem to pen this sketch of Death's visit.
What could be more dramatic than her opening words, "It's coming", followed by the creepy "postponeless Creature". We see it reaching the block and then the door, unerringly reaching for the proper latch among all the other door fastenings. Dickinson says Death "gains" the block and the door as if its ultimate victory is being built step by step. It is inexorable.
But for all this scary build up it seems this Death is akin to the gentleman caller in "Because I could not stop for Death" [F479) who conveyed his passenger in great "Civility". The current caller is vastly superior, however. While Death in 479 took his passenger to what seems an eternity in a grave, this one carries its subject "to God".
His visit doesn't arouse the terror and dread the first stanza would suggest. The dying person recognizes and salutes him (or perhaps Death salutes his subject). If he is perceived an enemy he acts with bold resolution; if as a friend, perhaps a deliverer, his visit is blessedly brief. Those left behind to live another while don their black crape mourning clothes, their tears sharp as icicles.
|Can't you just hear the chain rattling?|
Part of the dread induced by the first stanza is due to Dickinson's pacing. That first line is a slow read. The feminine (unaccented) ending of "coming" creates a whisper; the long vowels of "postponeless Creature" draw out the rest of the line – to say nothing of the ghostly sound of "postponeless". It sounds like moaning. Death's progress is graphed quite visually, particularly at the door where the reader pictures him at the latch.
The second stanza is more assertive with trochees beginning the first three lines. The firm trochaic meter is the parallel structures of the first two lines: Simple Salute; Certain Recognition; and Bold were…/ Brief were…
I find the contrast between the two stanzas quite effective and meaningful. The approach of death (at least this type of death) is surely more fraught with dread and fear than the actual encounter.