The elegiac poems of Emily Dickinson provide what is perhaps the clearest depiction of the conflicting emotions inherent to the death-conscious nineteenth century. In one such poem, Dickinson’s oxymoronic phrase, “Dark Parade,” encapsulates the spirit of a social movement that was born of a desire to comfort the grief-stricken and to beautify the horrific. Throughout Dickinson’s corpus of elegiac poetry, the speaker echoes these sentiments and crafts an insightful portrait, juxtaposing the stark horror of death with the ethereal beauty of ceremony. As Dickinson’s elegies are traced over time, the poems develop as microcosmic representations of a grieving nation, as the speaker resacralizes the corruption of the death scene in the domestic realm. Particularly through her death-bed narratives, the poet exemplifies the paradox that was the 1800s-death scene, the “Dark Parade.” Carefully placed together, the two simple words create an image—couched within the ostentatious display of ritual and deeply embedded in the v disconsolate setting of mourning. In doing so, Dickinson’s speaker captures the essence of the nineteenth-century Victorian “cult of death.”

Date of publication

Spring 5-5-2017

Document Type




Persistent identifier


Committee members

Dr. Ann Beebe, chair; Dr. Anett Jessop, member; Dr. Catherine Ross, member


Master of Arts in English