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“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Dickinson Essay

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

In the six-stanza poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Emily Dickinson uses personification to convey the similarity between death and a person. She also includes some symbols and metaphors in her poem to show the atmosphere. She does not address death as a concept but gives it human qualities and allows it to act like a human. In her first stanza, she describes her meeting with death and goes through their journey together in the following four stanzas. The final sixth stanza refers to the eventual understanding of the destination by the author, which is eternity. The employment of personification of death in the poem, together with the used metaphors and symbols, illustrates the perception of it by the author.

From the very beginning of the poem, Dickinson gives the death human attributes. In the first two lines, “Because I could not stop for Death‐ He kindly waited for me‐,” she depicts death as a real man who stops to wait for a lady to come with him and pretends to be a good companion for the journey to the eternal afterlife (1-2). Death here, as the main character of the story, waits as a human. However, death cannot literally stop and wait for someone, and this is the first example of personification in the poem.

Another example of the personification of death through his human actions is included in line 5 of the poem. During their journey, Dickinson describes their advancing as “We slowly drove – He knew no haste” (1-2). This line adds one more action attributed to the death for its personification – he is not in a hurry, just slowly driving to their final destination. From this description, the man seems to be quite relaxed and calm, and the reader might see that this journey is not the first one for him, but a routine task already.

In the second stanza, death also takes on human qualities that help the reader to form an opinion on what kind of person he might be. Line 8 “For His Civility-” introduces him as a thoughtful and civil man (1-2). As they are slowly driving forward, he seems to be more concerned about the lady’s comfort rather than their soon arrival at the place of destination. Together with human acts such as waiting, mentioned in the first stanza, he possesses the qualities that allow the reader to imagine him to be a polite person with good manners.

Along with such literary technique as personification, Dickinson also uses various metaphors in her poem. She describes the journey itself in lines 3 and 4, “The Carriage held but just Ourselves -And Immortality” (1-2). In these lines, the carriage in which they are traveling towards death can be compared to the end of long life or the passage to death. Moreover, it can also be viewed as a symbol of a hearse. Hence, the transition into death, the final stage on the way to immortality, seems to be a long process for the author.

Another metaphor is included in lines 17 and 18, where Dickinson describes what they see along the way. One of the last things the person riding with the death sees is their last stop in this journey, which is a house. The house in the lines “We paused before a house that seemed A Swelling of the Ground-” represents the metaphor for the person’s last resting place (1-2). The connection between them is in the fact that they are both places for a person to sleep and rest.

Dickinson, in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” also uses symbols to convey the impression of the passage to death. One of the examples of symbols is in line 5, where she describes what’s happening as “We slowly drive-” (1-2). The pace of events in the poem is very slow, and it reflects the slowness of the passage to death as it is not something that happens quickly. For most people, death is a long way, accompanied by illnesses and aging.

The symbolic part of the poem is contained in line 12, when she writes that they were passing the setting sun. The symbol of the setting sun refers to the coming darkness that surrounds a person after death. The lack of sun here is the absence of life and represents one of the final milestones of the journey called life. Once the travelers pass the sun, there is no way back for them.

Another symbol of the poem is in the description of the children they pass by. They are the first people the two travelers see. It is not a coincidence, as the reflections on the past start with the early years in the person’s life. As the person riding with the death in his carriage sees the children playing games in a ring, they go over their whole life. The memories of their childhood are flooding them and leading to the following years of their life.

In the poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Emily Dickinson uses various literary techniques and elements such as personification, symbolism, and metaphors. They help to capture the atmosphere of the process of passing to death and convey the way the author perceives her life and death itself. The personification of death in the poem as the primary literary technique used by the author helps the reader to understand her attitude towards it. The qualities attributed to death and his actions lead to the conclusion that death itself is not perceived as an enemy, but just as a companion at the end of a long journey called life.

Work Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. 13th ed., Cengage Learning, 2016, pp. 1-2.

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