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What is "The Bustle in a House" by Emily Dickinson about?

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"The Bustle in a House" by Emily Dickinson is about the resumption of everyday life following a bereavement. The events of the poem appear to take place on the morning after a death and, as such, it has been positioned by some critics as a direct sequel to Dickinson's other poem about death, "The Last Night that She Lived."

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Not only is the resumption of everyday affairs swift on the heels of death, it is also described by Dickinson as having a hurried or urgent quality via the word "bustle." It is often therefore interpreted not so much as a matter of course, but as a matter of some urgency — almost like an exorcism of the concept of death itself.

In the second stanza, Dickinson describes a "sweeping up" of the heart, arguably drawing a parallel between domestic cleaning and emotional sublimation. Dickinson continues to highlight the incompatibility between matters of everyday life and the eternal concepts of love and death with the words "putting love away / We shall not want to use again." Here, she appears to be comparing the compartmentalization of painful or intense emotions to the putting away of household objects.

As such, the poem is typical and especially illustrative of Dickinson's tendency to contrast the mundane with the spiritual or divine.

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