Voices of the Dead
Tao Yuanming and Emily Dickinson’s Poems on Their Own Death
Ancient Chinese poet Tao Yuanming (365-427) and American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) both write poems on a peculiar theme: the post-death condition with the voice ‘I’ in the poems presented as already dead. This paper explores this rare theme in the two poets and analyzes their similarities and differences in this respect. Both poets are hermits, sharpening their sensitivity to life, death and the natural world. Tao’s vision of the after-death world is very certain, and forms a continuous and unified narrative, while Dickinson describes a new after-death scenario each time, highlighting her uncertainty of it. Yet, after all, these poems by Tao and Dickinson perhaps tell us more about their obsession with life, rather than death.
Keywords: Emily Dickinson • Death • Tao Yuanming