I think Emily Dickinson’s “This World is Not Conclusion” is one of her most underrated poems. Here’s an analysis:
In “This World is not Conclusion,” the opening line asserts that the world we know and inhabit is not the only one and that death is not final. The statement ends with a full stop, in contrast to the hyphenated lines which follow. This difference signifies that the narrator is firm in his/her belief, which could be ironic, as the rest of the poem is concerned with doubt. Next, Dickinson describes a “Species” which “stands beyond –,” to be “Invisible, as Music – / But positive, as Sound –”. This paradox suggests that the world may not be as rational as we would expect if music and sound can have opposite qualities. “It beckons, and it baffles – / Philosophy, don’t know – / And through a Riddle, at the last – / Sagacity must go – ” the poem continues. That which the narrator seeks both compels him/her to investigate and leaves him/her bewildered in the search for truth – another example of juxtaposition. No conventional intellect can answer the question of what happens when one dies. The poet writes that scholars have puzzled over this “Riddle” for centuries while other men have adopted religious faith, especially Christianity. But Dickinson says that sometimes this faith slips in a world becoming increasingly skeptical. When this happens to an individual, they will laugh at themselves a little, ‘correct themselves,’ so to speak, and blush in case anyone saw. To believe in something whose existence cannot be proven by any means, – in fact, can oftentimes be disproven – is embarrassing, the poet insinuates. People “[Pluck] at a twig of Evidence – / And [ask] a Vane, the way –.” The “twig of Evidence” metaphor describes how little proof there is, but could also imply that there is much more to be found – a whole tree from which the narrator has plucked but a twig. Conversely, the tree could bear information that invalidates the narrator’s belief system, but which they choose to ignore for that very reason. Dickinson’s intentions here are ambiguous. Also, the notion that a weathervane can tell “the way” is nonsensical because this device constantly changes direction. Perhaps the word “Vane” punningly suggests that truth-seeking is all in ‘vain’ and won’t produce any results. The final stanza reads “Much Gesture, from the Pulpit – / Strong Hallelujahs roll – / Narcotics cannot still the Tooth / That nibbles at the soul –.” This excerpt alludes to a Church service, and then concludes with a metaphor to communicate that no expression of faith can inhibit the doubt which “nibbles at the soul”. The poem as a whole explores the conflict between faith and doubt, especially when it comes to belief in an afterlife. It is up for interpretation as to whether this belief is well-founded or ill-considered.
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