‘Death is the supple Suitor’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem on the inevitability of death. The poet imagines death first as a suitor and then as a groom, who woos every living being and finally wins them over.The poem consists of twelve lines. It follows an ABCB rhyme scheme.
Dickinson has personified Death as a supple suitor. ‘Supple’ in this case refers to the inherent flexibility of death. It can adjust itself to various forms and can strike anytime. Just like a suitor trying to woo his beloved, Death too tries to woo the living. Death is stealthy. Its advances are not always obvious to a person. Dickinson could be referring to several things here like the ageing process, sudden accidents, etc.
‘Pallid’ is a word associated with sickness and death, when the skin of a person becomes pale. Innuendoes are oblique, often disparaging, remarks. The poet states that Death tries to woo the person through such pallid suggestions. From this, it seems likely that the poet is talking about sickness. It is as if sickness is a way of Death wooing a person. It is not obvious to the person at that time. Hence Emily Dickinson also refers to it as a ‘dim approach’.
But this does not go on forever. Sooner or later Death stops its indirect advances and rides out with bugles and a bisected coach. This could refer to the moments when the person is really old or very sick and does not have much life force left to defy death.
The poet has used an interesting term here: ‘bisected coach’. We are attempting one possible interpretation of this– here Death is both the groom and also agent for cessation of life. Hence his coach would be part wedding chariot and part funeral hearse. As he comes out of the shadows to take his bride off to his world, his coach will thus appear bisected.
‘Troth’ refers to a solemn pledge. ‘Plighting one’s troth’ is a synonym for getting married. The Death is the form of a groom has now married the formerly living person. It bears away the person jubilantly. But no one knows details of their marriage or the pledges Death has made to his bride.
In the world of death, there is no life. The poet imagines Death to have a large family of all dead people. These people, being dead, are not responsive. Hence the poet calls them ‘as responsive as porcelain’. They are the kindred of Death, and this is the world that death is taking his new bride to.
Context: As a poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a lot on death and the nature of death. No stranger to loss in her life, she makes an effort to explore and understand death through many of her poems. Doing so, she also allows readers to deal with their fear of death.
Comments on the poem: The poem tries to personify death as a suitor, with whom marriage is inevitable. Death is at first shy, only capable of making indirect advances towards his lady love, but over time he gains confidence and finally one day, comes out with all guns blazing.
This is an interesting way to look at the gradual weakening of the human body over time. Death is a natural process, but it feels us with fear because its nature is unknown. The poet tries to explain that Death with the help of a relatable analogy.
Language: The language of the poem is elegant but challenging. Even though, the poet has personified Death as a suitor, she manages to maintain a gloomy atmosphere befitting the subject, throughout the poem. This is achieved using words and phrases with negative connotations such as ‘stealthy’, ‘pallid innuendoes’, ‘dim’, ’troth unknown’, ‘responsive as porcelain’.
About: Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Dickinson was born inAmherst, Massachusetts. Although part of a prominent family with strong ties to its community, Dickinson lived much of her life highly introverted. After studying at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she briefly attended theMount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Considered an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom. Dickinson never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence.