My life closed twice before its close;
        It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
        A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
       As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
       And all we need of hell.

The speaker uses the metaphor of death to describe the torment two cataclysmic events inflicted. What these two events are we don't know, and I think there is little to be gained in trying to read the poem biographically; by asking, for example, is she referring to the deaths of two people? and if so, to whom? was she in love? were her feelings reciprocated?

What matters is that the pain of these events was so sharp that she feels as if her life ended. Despite her feeling, she is, of course, still physically alive, so that she can experience more than one loss and the pain of that loss. Obviously, "its close" at the end of line 1 refers to her literal death.

Dickinson uses metaphors of vision ("see" and "unveil") for revelation. What happens after death, in immortality? She compares what might be revealed to the pain she suffered twice before.

The last two lines of this poem present a powerful paradox; parting is both heaven and hell. We part with those who die and--hopefully--go to heaven, which is, ironically, an eternal happiness for them; however, we who are left behind suffer the pain (hell) of their deaths (parting). Is there any comfort in this poem? What is the one thing we "know" about heaven? Is heaven, for living human beings, connected to hell? A personal note: these lines chill me every time I read them, and they stay with me afterward.

Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed," p. 2
"Safe in their alabaster chambers," p. 3
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p. 21
"It was not death, for I stood up," p. 22
"A bird came down the walk," p. 13
"I like to see it lap the miles," p. 27
"Pain has an element of blank," p. 31
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p. 44
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
"After great pain a formal feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society" (handout)
"The heart asks pleasure first," p. 24
"I'll tell you how the sun rose," p. 11
"Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn," p. 36
"Success is counted sweetest" (handout)
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p. 11
"I felt a cleaving in my mind," p. 43
"My life closed twice before its close," p. 49
"Wild nights! Wild nights!" p.5
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms," p. 3
"Hope is the thing with feathers," p. 5
"I felt a funeral in my brain," p. 8
"I had been hungry all the years," p. 26
"I started Early--took my Dog--" (handout)
"My life had stood a loaded gun" (handout)
"Because I could not stop for Death," p. 35
"If you were coming in the fall," p. 23
**Supplemental Reading**
      Sample Midtern and Student Answers

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