Emily Dickinson, “Life, and Death, and Giants” (706)

“Life, and Death, and Giants” (706)
Emily Dickinson

Life, and Death, and Giants —
Such as These — are still —
Minor — Apparatus — Hopper of the Mill —
Beetle at the Candle —
Or a Fife’s Fame —
Maintain — by Accident that they proclaim —

Comment:

“Life,” “Death,” and “Giants” are motionless? Dickinson proclaims “Such as these – are still.” They are concepts, larger than the everyday life we wake into, move about in, die. “Giants” provide additional color to “Life” and “Death.” These are each literary concepts, essential to our myth-making and self-reflection, and they are purposely inflated. “Giants” implies that they are not the only inflated thing.

What is not inflated involves movement:

Minor — Apparatus — Hopper of the Mill —
Beetle at the Candle —
Or a Fife’s Fame —

Only the “Beetle at the Candle” is a living organism. A hopper is a minor apparatus, an inverted cone which reduces grain. A “fife’s fame” are musical notes which disappear as soon as they’re sounded. Dickinson brings our attention to the most significant problem with life, death, and giants: their attempt to be bigger than time itself. What’s left of the past has been processed like grain. Grasping the present is like being a beetle both enchanted and wary of a flame. The future, like music, depends on remembrance. Every further note depends on the consciousness of what came before.

These three things “maintain by accident that they proclaim.” Time itself, unlike the constructs life, death, and giants, does not proclaim anything. It does not always allow more serious events and personages to speak. Yet, some of them do, and a thinker more attentive to things in time, a writer who has purposefully made herself small, maintains an actual grasp on living. Whereas to sound off on the largest things without any sense of experience is to tell a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.