Emily Dickinson, “A Sickness of this World it most occasions” (1044)

A Sickness of this World it most occasions (1044)
Emily Dickinson

A Sickness of this World it most occasions
When Best Men die.
A Wishfulness their far Condition
To occupy.

A Chief indifference, as Foreign
A World must be
Themselves forsake — contented,
For Deity.


The way “occasions” is used has overtones of “appropriate.” Is it most appropriate the world is sick when best men die? The Latin root of “occasions” means “to fall,” “die,” “set like the sun.” Does best men dying cause sickness in this world?

“A Sickness” parallels “A Wishfulness:” whose wishfulness does/should “their far Condition” occupy? Our wishfulness may cause the sickness, as we need the best men, in our conception, to be ever present. Our conception, unfortunately, is tied to “their far Condition.” We only know the worth of the best men through what they’ve accomplished. In our lives, they are always dead to us. (The best men have another wishfulness not a sickness of this world.)

We don’t miss the best men, though we think we do. “A Chief indifference” refers to us and only by analogy applies to them. “As Foreign A World must be Themselves forsake:” “A World” follows after “A Sickness,” “A Wishfulness,” “A Chief.” The movement is from a lack to a priority (“Chief”) to a reality (“World”). The best men might love a foreign world – a whole new place to explore excites. Only trouble: this world is that foreign world; the best men did their best in it. “Must be” cements the necessity. “Most” and “far” in the first stanza point to matters of degree. We don’t see what necessarily holds, as our ironic mourning of best men demonstrates. But the distance of the best men almost puts them in a parallel situation to us – almost. Instead of simply not knowing the world, they banish themselves from it by choice. They forsake the foreign world “for Deity.” This might say more about the best men than anything else. Compared to us, they’re knowers, indefatigable and implicitly immortal. But the best men were not strictly defined as knowers. Their restlessness drove them in this life toward some place of rest. Our relation to that place of rest is the only issue.


  1. Felicia, I didn’t know those daeitls about Emily D. And wow, what a time for you mother to have passed. You will have to tell me that story. It is so true that our loved ones gift us with so much. Thank you!

  2. When good men die, we are filled with a sickness of this world, and we would gladly
    forsake this all-too-familiar world for what comes after.

    Such considerations matter not to those who have passed, being as they are in the presence of God.

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