A famous American poet Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. There Emily went to primary school and then entered Amherst Academy, where she studied from 1840 to 1847. After graduation, Emily Dickinson attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Her family was a Puritan one; that is why religious beliefs had a significant impact on her education. The poet began writing poems when she was a child, and she practiced her mastery by rewriting lyrics she found in books. She published fewer than ten poems of the eighteen hundred she wrote during her lifetime. Moreover, even published works underwent serious editorial revision to meet the poetic norms of the time. Many of her poems contain the motif of death and immortality; the same subjects permeate her letters to friends.
When she traveled to Philadelphia in the 1850s, she fell in love with a married minister. Emily’s disillusionment with love may have resulted in her withdrawal from society. More than that, she suffered an emotional crisis in the early 1860s. Her unstable state of mind inspired her to write actively as she composed over three hundred poems between 1862 and 1863, including one of her most famous works “Because I Could not Stop for Death.”
In this poem, a woman tells readers the story of one day when a polite gentleman Death arrives in his carriage to take her out for a ride. However, readers see one more character, who is a silent and mysterious stranger Immortality. Thus, Emily takes the reader on a mysterious journey through time. That is why this work is one of the most illustrative examples of the poet’s presentation of death and figurative language in American literature.
Analysis of “Because I Could not Stop for Death”
The woman, who is the protagonist, says that she is too busy for Death: “Because I could not stop for Death -“(Dickinson 1), so Death “kindly” stops the time for her and comes by to get her (2). Such a pleasant tone suggests that the protagonist feels quite comfortable and safe with Death. However, it is worth mentioning that it may be inappropriate for a young, unmarried woman to go for a carriage ride with a stranger; that is why Immortality rides with them. Though the poem’s speaker does not offer any description of Immortality, readers can imagine him or her. Nevertheless, the protagonist’s attention is still focused on Death, her gentle visitor.
The carriage ride represents the speaker’s departure from life. The woman desires to go with Death and leave her everyday life because she says that she had “put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For his civility” (Dickinson 6-8). This proves that the author has succeeded in everything she wanted in life. The protagonist reluctantly enters the carriage with Death and Immortality. Death drives slowly and allows her to think over as he takes her through her life. There are several possible explanations for the slow speed of the carriage. One of them is that Death has no concept of time. Time and space are human concerns, and Death, who is a courier of souls from this world to another, is not obliged to follow these earthly concepts.
In this third stanza, readers can see reminders of the world, in which the speaker lives. She is provided with a few moments to recall her childhood. After that, they drive near the “gazing grain,” allowing the author to think over the prime of her life (Dickinson 11). After that, they pass beautiful and gentle sunset, and the transferring from life to eternity is depicted as such, which symbolizes the author’s death (Ashraf 55). It is worth mentioning that one of the most frequent types of figurative language, which is repetition, is used here. It occurs in lines 9, 11, and 12, where Emily Dickinson writes, “We passed” three times, creating a sense of life going by.
In this stanza, Emily Dickinson suddenly changes the tone of the poem. The protagonist’s death becomes very physical as “The Dews drew quivering and chill” (Dickinson 14). The woman realizes that she is cold and underdressed as she explains that her dress is “only gossamer” (Dickinson 15), and her “tippet,” (16) which is usually made out of fur, is “only tulle” (16).
After the moment of realizing the coldness of death, the carriage stops at the protagonist’s new “house, / A Swelling of the Ground“(Dickinson 17-18). The woman claims the “the roof was scarcely visible” and the “cornice but a mound” (Dickinson 19-20). The tone of the poem reveals touches of bitterness and disappointment, as the author feels cheated because she understands that she imagined death quite differently. Death was gentle to her, and he lured her in with great promises for eternity. However, in reality, she sees her small, wet, eternal home, which can be compared with a grave.
Emily Dickinson depicts a glimpse of immortality, as it has now been “centuries and yet each feels shorter than a day” as life continues without the protagonist (21-22). Moreover, it is not just any day, but the very day of her death. She saw “the horses’ heads” pulling her towards eternity (Dickinson 23). Hence, the final image lets the speaker’s view broaden to the whole outside world.
The central theme of the poem seems to be that people should not be afraid of death, as it is an essential part of nature’s endless cycle. Dickinson’s view of this concept may also depict her personality and religious beliefs. On the one hand, Emily was withdrawn, introspective, and prone to loneliness. On the other hand, as a very religious person, she was optimistic about her ultimate destiny and seemed to accept death as a friend. That is why in “Because I Could not Stop for Death”, Emily Dickenson regards the ending of life as something positive and gentle, because of the idea that she would pass from this life to some better place. The poet wants to convince readers that all people are too busy to think about death. More than that, the speaker welcomes being dogged by death (or Death). Emily Dickinson’s poem seems to say that people are merely Death’s passengers.
Dickinson’s images and effective use of some widespread figurative elements of poetry helped create a poem with several different meanings. “Because I Could not Stop for Death” is thought-provoking as it addresses some crucial issues, such as the perception of death and the meaning of life. That is why it makes readers reconsider their principles and values and remains popular even in the twenty-first century.
Ashraf, Ayesha. “Representation of Death in Poems of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost: A Stylistic Analysis “Because I Could not Stop for Death”.” American International Journal of Contemporary Research, vol. 5, no. 4, 2015, pp.53-58.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could not Stop for Death.” poets.org, Web.