OUR journey had advanced;
Our feet were almost come
To that odd fork in Being’s road,
Eternity by term.
Our pace took sudden awe, 5
Our feet reluctant led.
Before were cities, but between,
The forest of the dead.
Retreat was out of hope,—~Emily Dickinson
Behind, a sealed route, 10
Eternity’s white flag before,
And God at every gate.
For someone who often wrote of Death as a courteous gentleman, Dickinson wrote some pretty macabre stuff, too. The line that jumps out at me from this poem is “the forest of the dead.” In the poem, it’s the obstacle between the speaker and the “cities.” The line reminds me of Carrie Ryan’s YA zombie novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is a great read even if, like me, you are squeamish about all things zombie.
As a country-dweller, I’m often bemused by how often in the human imagination cities are associated with goodness, order, intellectualism, etc.; while nature, particularly very rural parts of it, are scary, benighted, chaotic, deadly. I feel safer in the middle of the woods than in any city.