First, both poems have a similar central purpose. In “Death is a Dialogue”, the central purpose is to convey a perspective about the spirit and the afterlife. In “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking”, the central purpose is that by helping others, life becomes purposeful. However, the first poem is superior to the second poem. The first poem depicts the human spirit as something that is immortal. The first poem has more poetical merit than the second poem in the use of imagery, symbolism, and personification.
The poem is structured as a dialogue alongside a combination of personification and apostrophe. Used together, these literary devices give “life” and immediacy to the language of the poem as seen in Dickinson’s first poem. The reader is provoked to think of abstract concepts of ‘Death’ and ‘the Spirit’ as thinking, feeling, and speaking like human beings. The use of personification is found in the second and third lines: “’Dissolve” says Death – The Spirit “Sir / I have another Trust” –“. Death’ and ‘the Spirit’ are also personified physically, as found in line two of stanza two: “The Spirit turns away”. The combination of these poetic devices creates a subtle but creative ironic tone. Since the poem depicts a dialogue between nonhuman entities that are in disagreement about the immorality of ‘the Spirit’, personifying them gives them the qualities of life that suggests that the soul is immortal. The last two lines of the second stanza are symbolic and open to interpretation.
By leaving the most difficult concepts of the poem until the end is an effective way of engaging the reader because the purpose of the poem cannot be fully achieved without interpreting these lines. This also works effectively because the framework of the poem provides enough information to consider how the last two lines achieve the poem’s purpose. For example, the contradictory tone of the framework creates a dramatic reading experience. It transits between resilience and fear, where ‘the Spirit’ portrays resilience, for example, in the last line of stanza one: “’I have another Trust” – “ (p 223).
In the last two lines of stanza two, “Just laying off for evidence / An Overcoat of Clay” (p 223), is highly symbolic and achieves the purpose of the poem because imaging the spirit taking off an “Overcoat of Clay” creatively shows that it is immortal; the only buried part of him is his “overcoat”. “Overcoat” is an effective use of connotation as it conjures a strong mental image of ‘the Spirit’ proving his immortality. By comparison, “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking”, is an inferior poem.
The poem is didactic and uses simple language that is not subject to interpretation, leaving a dull reading experience. Its message is clear, but how the poem attempts to achieve its message is poorly done. For example, the rhythm of the poem does not contribute to the purpose of the poem because it only gives the poem a superficial and catchy tone that an unqualified reader would find appealing and poetic. Rhyme is used for its own sake. A good example of this is in the first and third lines where the words “breaking” and “aching” are used.
The lack of literary devices such as personification and connotation leave a poem that has only face value with no incentive or encouragement to observe beyond the literal meaning of the words. It is purely didactic in that its primary purpose is to preach or teach; a good poem would achieve this purpose by being subtle. This poem would be appealing to unqualified or beginner readers whom are looking for a wholesome truth dressed up in pretty words. Ultimately, the poem leaves the reader with a sermon and lacking both creativity and originality.
It presents an inspirational theme, but does not leave a qualified reader with a feeling of inspiration. Overall, this is a bad poem because it uses literary devices that are superficial, such as rhyming. As well, there is a lack of literary devices which otherwise could accomplish the poem’s purpose (to make it inspirational on a higher level). For example, the reader is not provoked to think about any larger or hidden meaning in the poem. Unlike “Death is a Dialogue” which provokes both insight to a larger meaning beyond its face value, this poem’s flaws largely outweigh any positive features a good poem would have.