A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
- Emily Dickinson -
One of Emily Dickinson's shortest poems, with less than twenty words, "A word is dead" reflects her thoughtfulness about life, death, and immortality. Dickinson challenges accepted thinking, by putting a spin on the way she writes about simple things, such as sunrises, walks, heaven, the mind, and even poetry.
"A word is dead" asks the questions, "What is life?," and "What is death?" When you speak, is the thought, the word, ending or beginning its life? Before the word is voiced or created, it can only affect one person. It provides no threat to anyone, it can create no change. An insult does not hurt until it is said. A compliment means nothing if not given. When you speak, you are putting yourself at risk, voicing a thought, allowing it to leave the realm of the mind. Emily Dickinson constantly did this throughout her life through her writing. Dickinson has often been considered austere and solitary. She never married, did not participate in local religious frenzies in Amherst, Massachusetts, and never traveled. Only after her death in 1882 did her poetry become known when discovered in a locked box by her sister Lavinia. Because of her writings, Emily Dickinson, who before was considered as a solitary maid who did domestic tasks and stayed at home, was given recognition after her death. Her poetry was unconventional, but through giving herself a voice in the world through her poetry, she gave herself immortality. She has died but her legacy lives on, continuously growing as it continues to affect more people.
What does Emily Dickinson's poem mean for us today? Your thoughts, your words, die, if not voiced. A beautiful sunset may last only one hour, but one can make it last an eternity through voicing it. If we are not willing to take a stand and voice our words, we will disappear from all thought and memory -- the fate of eternal death.