Dickinson Week Day Three: “I died for Beauty—but was scarce…”

I died for Beauty — but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining room —

He questioned softly “Why I failed?”
“For Beauty,” I replied —
“And I — for Truth — Themself are One —
We Brethren, are,” He said —

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night —
We talked between the Rooms —
Until the Moss had reached our lips —
And covered up — our names —

In “I died for Beauty—but was scarce…” Dickinson seemingly writes about two martyrs in their respective tombs, talking to each other about their deaths until all of their remains have been overgrown by ‘moss’ and thus forgotten completely. One of these martyrs died for ‘Beauty’ and the other for ‘Truth’, and their declarations of this really paints a picture of a couple of revolutionaries dying while fighting for their ideals in life. The poem seems to ultimately idealise martyrdom as the connotations of both the virtues these martyrs have died for are indisputably good and pure in their positivity.

The ultimate message of this particular Dickinson poem is in fact rather morose when analysed through a rather tragic lens, in that everything humane about these two martyrs – their ‘lips’, ability to speak and their ideals, their ‘names’ – are ‘covered up’ by the ‘Moss’ (again note the capitalisation) in death. Dickinson arguably communicates to her reader that no matter how strong an emotion, or cause, or ideal – such as ‘Beauty’ or ‘Truth’ might be in life, it is ultimately erased and obliterated in death and is eventually lost and forgotten, along with those who championed them.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)