Analysis Pages

Themes in I Died for Beauty

Themes Examples in I Died for Beauty:

Text of the Poem

🔒 11

"And covered up our names...."   (Text of the Poem)

The speaker suggests that death has covered up their names and that their voices have been lost. However, what is ironic is that the poem is being read and their voices have already been preserved in writing. The speaker tells us from the beginning of the poem that they are dead, so they have been speaking from beyond the grave for the entirety of the poem. This further cements the poem’s theme that death need not be scary or sad. It is merely a fact of life, and our ideas may persist after our bodies die.

"And covered up our names...."   (Text of the Poem)

The moss covering up the names of the men is a metaphor for death because it invokes the image of moss growing thick on a headstone. Death erases the identities of the men. However, note that we have never been given the real names of the men, and that they have been identified as “beauty” and “truth.” It is not only the men who have died, or those who have died with these principles, but these two principles themselves.

"moss..."   (Text of the Poem)

Notice that the imagery of the “moss” covering the lips of the two here is one of the very few instances of nature we get in the poem. The imagery here brings death into the real, physical world rather than the abstract. This emphasizes the mortality of the speakers in a metaphor for death. Nature eventually takes over and covers all in silence.

"night..."   (Text of the Poem)

The imagery of the “night” calls to mind darkness, specifically the eternal darkness that comes with death. As night also signals the ending of the daylight hours, this image carries connotations of limited time—time drawing to a close just as the poem does. We are reminded of the limited amount of time the speaker has to talk to his kinsman, and of the limited amount of time we have on earth.

"We brethren are..."   (Text of the Poem)

The term “brethren” means “a male sibling or other male relative.” This word suggests that both the speaker and the person who died of “truth” are brothers or close relatives. However, the term “brethren” can also be used more generally to mean “a comrade.” While Keats’ poem suggests that truth and beauty are a single entity, this characterization of their relationship suggests that Dickinson separates the two ideas. It is unclear exactly why Dickinson does this other than another instance in which the readers are allowed to interpret the meaning as they will.

"the two are one..."   (Text of the Poem)

Dickinson uses simple and straight-forward language to convey complex ideas. Much like the seemingly simple urn in Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Dickinson’s art says more about the mysteries of life in its simplicity than a lengthy scientific explanation could. The style of the language contributes to this theme.

""For beauty," I replied. ..."   (Text of the Poem)

Notice that the conversation between the speaker and the other man takes on a very nonchalant tone. It seems as if it is simply another ordinary day and the two have met by happenstance and engaged in casual conversation. In making their deaths seem more normal, Dickinson again makes death seem less ominous and frightening.

"softly..."   (Text of the Poem)

“Softly” creates a relaxing, quiet, and unalarming tone. Although the poem describes the deaths of two people, which might seem mysterious and ominous, Dickinson’s use of the term “softly” contradicts this. Death here feels quiet and even possibly comforting, rather than scary or morose. This kind of contrast between darkness and light, odd eeriness and regularity, is characteristic of Dickinson’s poetry. She often uses seemingly opposing themes, imagery, and wording to reveal and reflect on the mysteries of life.

"room..."   (Text of the Poem)

Dickinson’s use of the word “room” to describe the “tomb” that this man is buried in, brings death into the realm of the ordinary. The word conveys normality, as if death or the grave is simply another “room” one will visit when their days have come to an end. The vision of death that this poem presents is not a tragic one, but an inevitable fact of life.

"I died for beauty..."   (Text of the Poem)

Notice that the speaker says that they “died for beauty” and not of beauty. If someone has “died for” something, they have “died in the name of” or “died in order to achieve” something. This suggests that “beauty” is not necessarily the cause of death, but rather that the speaker died for the cause of “beauty” itself.

"He questioned softly why I failed?..."   (Text of the Poem)

Dickinson further develops the allusion to Keats's poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which includes the enigmatic line "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty."

Dickinson frames the poem, of course, as a death scene, a common motif in her poetry.  The implication of the second stanza is that Truth and Beauty are, certainly after death, either equally unimportant or equally important.

Analysis Pages