My Tippet — only Tulle —

My Tippet — only Tulle —

That's a line from Emily Dickinson's poem, "Because I could not stop for death". It's a weird moment. The meter seems to slow way down. For a modern reader, who probably doesn't know the meaning of the words, it's a fun to feel the way the words play from the front of your mouth back into your throat.

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Tippet — a scarf-like narrow piece of clothing, worn over the shoulders. It may also be likened to a stole in the secular rather than ecclesiastic sense of this word.

Tulle — a lightweight, very fine netting, which is often starched. It can be made of various fibres, including silk, nylon, and rayon. Tulle is most commonly used for veils, gowns (particularly wedding gowns), and ballet tutus.

The clothes the speaker of the poem is wearing aren't made for warmth. They're ceremonial—a wedding dress or, more likely, the clothes she's been buried in. The courtship theme of the poem implies that in an darkly humorous way she's become married to Death. (Jesus — how many million times has that been said?)

Is Dickinson satirizing death or is she satirizing romance? Neither, really. I think death is given quite a bit of respect here. And she's not being cynical about romance. What she's satirizing is the way we avoid thinking about death. We can't even call a grave a grave; we call it a house with its roof in the ground. We have to imagine death as a person rather than just this formless and all-consuming negation. We have to wrap everything in words—even death, even the ones we love—so that our brains and tongues can hold them. Knowledge is power. Naming things gives us a grasp on life. Naming things creatively lets us enjoy our minds and our mouths and gives us access to real power, real vitality.

Say it five times fast: "My Tippet — only Tulle —"