Emily Dickinson & The Beatles

Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles was released in 1967 and was a reflective and nostalgic look back on John Lennon’s childhood, much like Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death”. The song is a melancholic reflection on Lennon’s adolescence, particularly of an orphanage he lived near called “Strawberry Field” where he felt connected with the other children. Strawberry Fields Forever is reportedly one of the most analyzed songs ever with it’s psychedelic instrumentals as well as the meaning of the lyrics themselves. Strawberry Fields Forever is an almost surreal expression of nostalgia and letting go.

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to
Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

These lines of chorus reinforce the idea of remembering and reflecting but ultimately letting go of that. Lennon uses a bit of humor here with “nothing to get hung about”; one one hand, it’s a humorous, little dig but on the other, it’s suggesting that if nothing is real, we shouldn’t be so uptight and worrisome (I think it’s also important to note that while there are no direct references to drug use in this particular song, Lennon admitted to being heavily under the influence of a psychedelic, LSD, while writing it). The allusions to the orphanage from his childhood also add to the melancholic feeling the lyrics and instruments create.

Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever

These 3 repeated lines occur at the end of the song just as the instrumentals start to derail. While the phrase has been repeated continuously throughout the song, they are particularly powerful in this instance because it could be interpreted a few different ways. In one sense, Lennon could be calling for his childhood to continue, given that Strawberry Field(s) was such an important location of his youth, as reinforced by the multiple allusions to it. However, it could also be interpreted as statement of continuity and immortality; even though we all age and die, it’s possible that certain parts of us never die. In this case, that would be this figure of Lennon’s youth, but the concept of parts of us and our lives being immortal is universally applicable.

So what does this have to do with Emily Dickinson’s poem? Well, when it comes to tone and the overall theme, the works are actually quite similar. Dickinson makes references to relevant childhood locations as the speaker passes on to death and in the last stanza, she also speaks of “eternity”.

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess-in the Ring-
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain- 
We passed the Setting Sun-
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity 

Both Dickinson and Lennon refer to locations that one would experience as a child and the experience of letting go of those moments. In Dickinson’s case, at least, the speaker is dying or already moving on to whatever happens after we die, but the similarity remains. Another interesting similarity is Lennon’s repeated use of “forever” and Dickinson’s use of “Eternity”. Both suggest that while some things die and change, others don’t and will always remain.

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