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AH, NECROMANCY SWEET!, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


In "Ah, Necromancy Sweet!", Emily Dickinson grapples with the themes of power, pain, and the human longing for control over the inevitable: suffering and mortality. Through a plea to a "Wizard erudite," Dickinson explores the boundaries of natural and supernatural domains, while also revealing the limits of science and medicine.

The poem commences with an exclamation, "Ah, Necromancy Sweet! Ah, Wizard erudite!" This invocation of the arcane arts serves to underscore the desperation felt by the speaker. The word "sweet" indicates a temptation, a forbidden allure in the powers that can transcend human limitations. The "Wizard erudite" symbolizes a figure of ultimate knowledge, a keeper of secrets beyond the grasp of mortal understanding.

The speaker's request, "Teach me the skill," immediately points toward an intense desire for empowerment. What exactly this skill pertains to becomes clear in the next lines: the ability to "instil the pain / Surgeons assuage in vain." It's a paradoxical wish-to have control over pain that medical expertise cannot alleviate. The term "instil" suggests a gradual, deliberate process, contrasting with the urgency in the initial plea. It reflects the idea that true power lies in understanding and manipulating subtleties, not just in immediate grand displays of magic or medicine.

By stating that neither surgeons nor "Herb of all the plain / Can Heal," Dickinson lays bare the limitations of both scientific and natural remedies. Surgeons here symbolize the pinnacle of medical science, and the herbs represent traditional or folk medicine. In stating their ineffectiveness, the poem questions human progress and wisdom, implying that some realms remain mysterious and out of reach.

While the poem is short, its themes intersect with the wider currents of the 19th-century American intellectual landscape. During Dickinson's time, the world was opening up to the marvels and miracles of medical science, but also grappling with its limitations. Through the figure of the wizard and the practice of necromancy, the poem perhaps highlights the human temptation to delve into areas considered taboo or dangerous in pursuit of ultimate truths or control.

From a stylistic perspective, the brevity of the poem aligns well with its theme. It's as if the speaker doesn't have time for lengthy elaboration-the pain is immediate, and so is the desire for relief or control. Dickinson's trademark dashes also make an appearance, serving to disrupt the flow and insert a sense of urgency or hesitance, underscoring the tension between human limitations and supernatural possibilities.

In summary, "Ah, Necromancy Sweet!" serves as a poetic exploration of the human desire for control over life's most unavoidable elements: pain, suffering, and the limitations of our mortal condition. The poem is a sobering reminder of the boundaries of human knowledge and skill, while also serving as a testimony to the undying human wish to surpass those very limits.


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