The Poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1960: 223-24.

Dickinson addresses death in a unique way where he personifies to show that he does not fear mortality. The author depicts how eternity is timeless and interprets the moral experience from an immortal viewpoint. Dickinson integrates immortality and death into a carriage designated to collect her. This integration brings out the art of personification based on Christianity; when first life stops, people are granted immortality. Dickinson describes death in a varying tone where before encountering death, a calm manner can be felt, but upon arriving, the tone changes to a cold one. The difference in tone usage shows how the narrator is unbothered due to being death’s natural part of life (Dickinson 223). Generally, Dickinson describes death and the immortal life, which Christians believe is the next phase for a deceased person.

Shaw, Mary Neff. “Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” The Explicator 50.1, 2018: 20-21.

Shaw interprets Dickinson’s views on death as a constitution of the images of the past that Dickinson uses to clarify some of the infinite perceptions by establishing a connection between reality and imagination. Additionally, Shaw considers Dickinson’s ideas on death as the relationship between the known and the unknown. According to Shaw, it is imperative to consider Dickinson’s amalgamations when he compares the past. For instance, Shaw pints Dickinson’s description of past life experiences and then compares them with perceived future temporal standards (Shaw 20). One of the most astonishing things that Shaw finds in Dickinson’s poem is how he characterizes death with a favourable connotation by referring to a kind and civil gentleman.

Collopy, Hannah, and Mr Gibbons. “Because I could Not Stop For Death.” The Explicator, 2018.

Collopy researches whether Dickenson’s use of aphoristic diction is essential to her reappearing theme of death. Collopy performs this study by integrating the other five poems written by Dickinson, talking about death (Collopy p. 2). Along with analyzing diction, Collopy studies the use of different literary devices such as irony, imagery, symbolism, and even dichotomy in the five poems talking about death.

Dickinson’s Thoughts about Death in the Poem

Death is addressed uniquely in Emily Dickinson’s immortal poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Dickenson portrays death as a gentleman riding in a carriage throughout the novel. The poem’s tone is light and joyful at first, with Dickinson almost welcoming death. She is not afraid, but she is willing to go along with it. Death is depicted as a nobleman who comes to give the speaker a trip to forever in her poetry “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Dickinson develops her different view of death in the whole poem, coming up with an intriguing thought and a poem that is enriched with imagery (Dickinson 223). Dickinson writes poetry that may be understood in various ways because of her exact writing style, excellent use of literary themes, and striking imagery.

While some may believe Dickinson is fearful of death throughout the poem, she welcomes it in the opening few stanzas and only exhibits anxiety near the end. However, the tone has darkened by the final verse and become more horrific. Dickinson has turned frigid and believes she has been duped by death. She seemed to be expressing remorse for allowing end to come to her so easy, because she is now forgotten.

Dickinson thinks she has been fooled by death in the fifth stanza. “We paused before a house that seemed to grow from the ground; the roof was hardly visible,” she says (17-19). The house, compared to a grave or a coffin, will be her final resting place. Even though death promised her something far better, she realizes the roof is coming apart, and the house is in horrible shape. Dickinson is dissatisfied with her death and believes it is not what she expected. She appears to wish she could go back in time before they freely entered the carriage, but she cannot do so (Dickinson 223). Death promised her a beautiful eternity and enticed her with fantasies of a great afterlife, but the reality is a rotting, gloomy, and wet dwelling.

The poem’s sixth stanza concludes with the same disappointment and despair over death. “Since then, it’s centuries, and yet each feels shorter than the day, I first surmised the horses’ heads,” Dickinson writes (Dickinson 223). Even though she has been dead for several years, she still thinks about how death treated her. Nonetheless, he claims that the centuries have flown by since she understood that death was not all she was promised. Death first presented to her as a loving, friendly companion, but now she recognizes him for what he indeed was: deceptive and two-faced.

Styles Employed

Dickinson addresses death in the poem’s first line by personifying him as a close friend. Dickinson capitalizes the word “death” in every sentence of the verse, making it a proper noun, further personifying death. “Because I couldn’t stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me,” Dickinson says in Stanza 1 (223). Her tone is light and pleasant, and she even says that death is good to her when it comes to a halt for her. There is also a second passenger in this carriage with death, who is likewise personified, immortality. Immortality remains silent, preferring to observe rather than participate in her adventure.

Dickinson’s theme is unafraid of death, and immortality is repeated in the poem’s second verse. “We leisurely drove, he knew no haste, and I had put away my labour, and leisure too,” Dickinson writes (223). The journey between death and immortality is leisurely and unhurried, with immortality also sitting calmly on the train. It’s almost as if the end enables her to reflect on her life and everything she’s accomplished without feeling rushed to go somewhere. Dickinson suggests that she entered the carriage willingly by stating that she had written down all she planned to do in her life, including work and leisure. Her tone and language remain pleasant, making the event feel more like a journey with an old friend than a near-certain death.

As she continues to ride in the carriage, the third part of the poem features further reminiscence about her life. “We passed the school, where children fought, at recess, on the ring, we passed the fields of gazing grain,” Dickinson wrote (224). Dickinson thinks about her early childhood and school days as she walks past the school, watching the kids play at recess. At this point, death is still taking its time, giving her plenty of time to reflect on her life.

The fourth stanza marks a significant shift in tone. The tone is deep and sad, as opposed to the cheerful and pleasant manner of the previous three stanzas. “The dew grew quivering and icy,” Dickinson writes, “for just gossamer my robe, my tippet merely tulle” (223). It’s cold outside now that the sun has set, and she chills. She notices that she is just wearing a thin nightgown for the first time in the poem and feels almost humiliated to be so underdressed in the presence of death and immortality. Even though she thought of death as a loving companion at the poem’s start, she now sees him differently. Immortality remains silent once more, but this time it turns from a supposedly comforting to an ominous silence. Dickinson finally displays signs of apprehension about what lies ahead on the expedition.

Immortality, like the previous stanzas, is quiet and unassuming, appearing to play a passive role in Dickinson’s death. The sun begins to set as she goes across the grain fields, heralding her demise. On the other hand, Dickson’s tone does not suggest that she is afraid or apprehensive about dying, but rather that she has accepted it as a fact of life (Dickinson 223).

Dickinson’s use of precise form throughout “Because” aids in conveying her message to the reader. The poem is divided into five sections, each of which comprises five quatrains. Each stanza of a quatrain is written in a way that provides the poem unity and makes it easy to read. The second and third quatrains of “I Could Not Stop for Death” offer the reader a sense of onward progress. Dickinson, for example, starts the poem with a sluggish motion in line 5, as she says, “We gently drove-He knew no haste” (223). As the triad constituting immorality, death and speaker pass the children running, the plains of grain, and the twin suns, the third quatrain accelerates.

As the reading progresses, the poem appears to become hasten but only for a few lines. The persona’s voice seems to slow down at lines 17 and 18 where Dickinson writes, “We paused before a House that appeared, swelling of the ground” (Dickinson 223). This deceleration makes the reader get the impression that life is almost ending. Dickinson also uses the poem’s style to communicate a message to the reader on line four, when she writes, “And Immortality.” Shaw says the phrase “Immortality” is given its line to emphasize its significance (20). Dickinson’s use of form is perhaps most striking when she closes the poem with a dash. The dash, according to Shaw, appears to signify that the poetry will never end, just as eternity will never end (21). Finally, Dickinson’s style aids the reader in comprehending the poem.

Dickinson used figurative language as one of the literary aspects to convey hidden messages to the reader. Throughout the poem, alliteration is employed multiple times. Lines 9 through 12 are an example of alliteration. “At Recess-in-the-Ring, we traversed the Fields of Gazing Grain” is an example of alliteration. In the third quatrain alone, alliteration is utilized four times. “The alliterations…depict a continuity of scenes, thus underlining the never-ending concept,” Shaw says (20). Generally, alliteration has been used to uncover the author’s past, allowing the reader to understand the reason behind Dickinson’s perception of death.

Repetition constitutes another type of metaphorical language that Dickinson employed to create stress on the importance of death. She writes, “We passed” three times in lines 9, 11, and 12 (Dickinson 223). This usage is the first occurrence of repetition. The poem’s persona goes through all she has already experienced, giving the reader a better understanding of how life is passing her by. In the fourth stanza, there is yet another instance of repetition. Dickinson uses the term “ground” twice in lines 18 and 20 to emphasize that she is writing about a grave, not a dwelling. Dickinson also employs figurative language to generate two occurrences of perfect rhyme. Perfect rhyme is used for the first time in lines 2 and 4, with the words “myself” and “immortality” rhyming (Dickinson 223). In lines 18 and 20, she echoes the word “ground” for a perfect rhyme for the second and final time. In general, Dickinson’s metaphorical language adds to the poem’s meaning.

Dickinson employs symbolism, the final literary element, to help the reader understand deeply what Dickinson is attempting to portray. The vehicle appears to be a hearse, which transports the speaker together with her suitor, who depicts death. The two individuals create the carriage’s third passenger, immortality. This carriage also represents a metaphor for time as time moves slowly (Dickinson 223). When the speaker peeps out the window, she sees young people playing games in a circle, representing her early childhood.

Along the poem, there many instances of typology that depict various aspects of Dickinson’s life. During Dickinson’s journey to eternity, she can see large fields of staring grains that represent her adulthood. This grain can be considered as the inanimate element in her life. Later, she sees a sinking sun which is a symbol that her mortal time is almost over. Although most readers would regard the suitor as a symbol of death, Collopy sees the suitor, death, as a substitute for God (p. 3). “Death, to be sure, is a surrogate for the genuine bridegroom…He is the messenger carrying her on this strangely early wedding voyage to the holy church where she might be married to God,” he says (Collopy p. 4). Symbols provide a greater understanding of death, eternity, and immortality in the poetry.

“I Could Not Stop for Death” is a phrase that can be taken in various ways. The first interpretation is based on Christian beliefs about death and immortality. According to the Christian perspective of death, a person dies and goes to a better place to live eternally. Time is everything during a person’s life, but time is no longer an issue once a person has died unexpectedly. In lines 21 and 22, Dickinson writes, “Since then-’tis Centuries-and yet, feels shorter than the Day” (Dickinson 223). Death is viewed as her suitor in another interpretation of the text. Her suitor’s marriage signifies her marriage to God. He is portrayed as a gracious gentleman who offers her a carriage ride.

The poem has sparked debate among scholars, who have interpreted it in various ways. Finally, the poem might be seen as a brief narrative of her life. As the speaker recalls her upbringing, she reminisces about a joyful and typical time in her life. The sun, on the other hand, passes her as she matures, symbolizing life passing her by. Anderson summarizes the biographical interpretation of the poem well when he writes, “She was borne boldly, by her winged steed, ‘toward Infinity’ in the permanence of her poems.” In other words, she felt certain that her writings would live on after she died.

Works Cited

Collopy, Hannah, and Mr Gibbons. “Because I could Not Stop For Death.” The Explicator, 2018.

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1960: 223-24.

Shaw, Mary Neff. “Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” The Explicator 50.1, 2018: 20-21.

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