Emily Dickinson’s versions of the poem each evoke a different emotion from the reader. The three versions range from being light and soft to dark and intense. The three versions all start with the same first stanza, it is in the second stanza where the changes are made.
The first stanza of all three poems is the same. It describes a scene depicting the dead as being safe in their coffins, free of life and worries. Dickinson also refers to them as meek members of the resurrection, a shot at the Puritan belief system. Each poem begins the same, with the same feeling and expression; it’s the second stanzas that give each poem a vastly different meaning.
In the first version the second stanza is soft and light-hearted. It depicts the world going on without the dead, but it does so in a very brief manner. “light laughs the breeze” (Line 7) has a playfulness to it, the passage doesn’t hold a large impact on the reader because the first version is unable to evoke great emotion from the reader because it is too general and sweet. The second version holds a much greater impact on the reader. Instead of depicting life going on with the dead through breezes and birds, Dickinson puts it in a larger picture. She shows that years go by, wars are fought, and battles are won and lost. Her last line “Soundless as dots-on discs of snow” shows that the dead have no impact on the living and the living are unaware of the dead. The second version evokes a greater amount of emotion from the reader because it has a broader picture of life going on without the dead.
The third version is in the same broad area that the second version was. However, in this version Dickinson went even further, “Staples of ages-have buckled them” (Line 11). Not only have rulers changed but ages have, this broadest example has the most distinct way of showing life going on without the dead. It’s not one day, one year, or one century that has passed-no- it is much more than that. This is the ultimate way of showing life going on without the dead.
All three of the versions of the poem are beautifully written. The changes were made to change the methods and imagery through which Dickinson transcribed her meaning. Once Dickinson wrote the third version the softness was gone and Dickinson was able to portray a solid and strong message to her sister-in-law.
The main summary of this poem is that regardless of what type of life you had, no matter how grand or dull, you are nothing in death. The poem presents an apathetic feeling towards death and shows how easily life can go on without the dead. The line, “soundless as dots on a disk of snow” adds a silencing end to the poem. It keeps the poem deep, dark, mysterious and powerful. It sums up that the dead are insignificant to the living.