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Poetry on Death: Comparison of Two Poems Essay

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Updated: Sep 17th, 2021


This paper would discuss and evaluate poetry on death by comparing and contrasting two poems: “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson and “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne.

Main Discussion

Death has always been an essential topic for poetry. Almost all the poets have written more or less on this topic because death is an ever-present phenomenon. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson is a serene and reflective poem that has a slender weird sentiment to it and demonstrates how the writer of the poem is so accommodating of death. Many lines of the poem comprise references to Dickinson’s supposition relating to the circle, and how everything that rotates, is in the center of the circle, and that we are simply on the periphery, watching what happens. We can see how this is mentioned in the poem in the first two lines of the poem

“Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me”.

This shows that we are deficient in control, and have no will in whatever happens to us because we are on the periphery of the circle. In this example, death is in the middle of the circle, and is, hence in the power of the person because death settles on to impede, whether the person is pleased with it or not. It appears that the speaker of the poem senses as if it was approximately a dispensation that death wished to stop on her,

“He kindly stopped for me”.
“The Carriage held but just ourselves and immortality”.

It transpires that the person is about to set on a journey with death since she is picked up by death in a carriage. Often during life when a man and a woman sit in a carriage together, it’s when they become married, and death is being represented to be a special occasion, just like marriage. She has committed herself to eternity and death, just how a wife vows herself to her husband.

On the other hand, in the poem “Death Be Not Proud,” composed by John Donne death is personified. This tool creates a sentiment that death is less powerful than we think. Donne creates an image of death that is, unlike other poets, beyond control, not mysterious, and a slave of low rank. He does this by discouraging the notion of death as bound to the laws of “fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.”

Unlike Dickenson, he insists that death is no more authoritative than any mortal being is. He proposed that death is not mysterious but it is a slave. Declaring death, “thou art slave” suggests an unthreatening standpoint of death because slaves are never in a position of threatening. It is because of the connections that go with the word slave. A slave is bound in obedience to the master, therefore, having no say in what he or she can do. Death, in being embodied into a slave that has many masters, is more tremendously bound. This deficiency of freedom that death has in selecting its victims, takes away any reason to be fearful of it. Power comes from being able to control something. Here death is the one being restricted by other external powers that have strength over how and when death can perform its activity.

According to Donne, death casts panic into mortals since it is unidentified as to what occurs in the world hereafter. This poem generates an opinion that we know who death is. On this base, death is like a poor beggar wandering on the street. This would compose death like a non-threatening being. He is an inferior class citizen that is just waiting for a chance to devour when his master permits. Donne presents this low-life death shape by affiliating him with “poison, war, and sickness.” (David 183) Death incarnated is the focus to these terrible conditions consequently is very low in the figure. If death can only harvest his retribution with such low values leading him, then death is as low as what he performs for. In this way, death becomes less puzzling and something which we are not being terrified of.

The speaker in Dickenson’s poem has almost been coaxed by death to forget everything in her life by his charm and chivalry. In the last line “For His Civility”, we see all the words are capitalized to show how they are so important, almost as if the only reason why the speaker of the poem decided to stop living was because of death’s politeness.

The speaker of the poem appears to be very accepting of death, as she decided to go into the carriage voluntarily and the readers sense a feeling of peace that will continue throughout the poem. She passes through her school that she attended as a child, and the readers hint that the woman’s childhood was that of a difficult one due to hard work, and ‘striving’ to be accepted in the playground. The circumference theory bought in again; as the woman watched the children strive in the ring at recess.

“We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-
We passed the Setting Sun-“.

The grain is personified as it gazes at the carriage, and we see in these two lines that all objects that were once passive in her lifetime, have now become active, and she now, has become passive. We can see that the sun is setting, and the poem begins to become dark. The speaker of the poem explains why she is cold, but we feel as if she may also be cold because she’s passing through a dark part of her life. The fact that she is wearing tulle is associating with a flimsy, delicate material that one would wear to a wedding or a final dressing, so we might wonder if she is witnessing her funeral, which would be dark and depressing due to the heartache felt by the mourners for the loss of the speaker of the poem. (Farr 330)


Towards the end of Dickenson’s poem, it seems that the funeral is over and that she is now passing her own grave. There is a constant sense of moving on in this poem- she has passed her childhood, her funeral, and now is passing her grave. This quaint and serene poem shows a woman’s journey with death through her life, along with the woman’s feelings of acceptance and constant sense of moving on as if to put all of life’s troubles behind her. Donne has also his own particular philosophy of death. Both the poems are suggestive and pregnant of meanings. The poems reflect the deep thoughts and ideas of the poets in figurative and allegorical styles.

Works Cited

David L. Edwards. John Donne: Man of Flesh and Spirit. (William B. Eerdman Publishing, 2002). 179-84.

Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: HUP, 1992. 329-31.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Poetry on Death: Comparison of Two Poems." September 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poetry-on-death-comparison-of-two-poems/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Poetry on Death: Comparison of Two Poems'. 17 September.

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