Analysis of Because I could not stop for Death

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” is a remarkable poem that outlines both the journey of life and the journey of death, and how whether we want it or not, we have to face death at some point. Surprisingly, Dickinson expresses a calm and accepting tone towards Death as she personifies him as a cordial suitor escorting the speaker to her grave. Through imagery and other literary devices, Dickinson portrays the speakers past life as she is taken by Death “towards eternity.”The setting is immediately established as a changing one as the speaker rides along a “carriage [together with Death] and Immortality” to her grave. “Because I could not stop for Death” metaphorically establishes dying as a pleasant drive in a carriage, much like the higher classes trips in the 19th century. Death, being a separate entity, “kindly” takes her on a long journey with him and immortality. The female speaker is long dead in the real world as she mentions how “this century feels shorter than the day” she realized she was going to die.Yet, she is still alive in a secondary world, where she lives a pleasant life.Throughout the whole journey, the subject of death is never illustrated as something to be feared but as a “kind” suitor who “knows no haste” as he calmly escorts her to her final destination. This reflects the tone as that too is never one of fear, but one of calm acceptance as the speaker reflects on all the good she accomplished in her previous life before she finally realizes that death has come.The imagery is truly striking as the reader is taken along the carriage journey to the speaker’s grave, and with the use of dashes, Dickinson makes the individual fragments of the speaker’s life stand out. As the speaker travels along the road, she passes “the School, where Children strove,” “the Fields of Gazing Grain,” and “the Setting Sun.” All these portray the various stages in her life as she reviews her childhood, maturity, and descent to death. As she passes the school where children are playing, we are reminded of the fun and freedom of life. As she passes the fields of gazing grain, we understand it as being the maturity stage as the grain is ripe, hence “gazing.” This is the stage where the fun is mixed with choices and consequences that lead to the last stage in life where the sun is setting to signify that we are becoming old. As the sun slopes down behind the horizon it does not stop emitting light, just not on us. This refers to the speaker as her soul lives on in an eternal afterlife even though she does not physically exist anymore.In one stanza, Dickinson has managed to encapsulate the speaker’s entire life, and as she does this, she ultimately highlights that all life must come to an end, just like the sun that rises, reaches its peak, and ultimately sets down. As she travels further down the road, the reader realizes that she seems to have accepted death as she is wearing only a “gossamer” and “tippet,” something generally associated with a wedding. By associating death with a wedding, she creates an image of death as a new beginning rather than the end. Although at the instant, the thought of death may seem frightening, we have to accept death, and take the afterlife as a new beginning towards a life of happiness. By wearing a wedding dress, it creates an image of a wedding as she marries Death, and Death takes care of her in her new life. Death is not some relentless figure but rather a caring person that takes care of all his “victims.” Lastly, as she arrives at her grave, Dickinson refers to the grave as “a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground.” This more humane image helps make death seem comforting and nice rather than something to be feared. By associating the grave to a house, Dickinson creates an image of a secondary world, where people strive in their houses “in the ground,” rather than being buried underneath a pile of dirt.Dickinson uses diction to help highlight her paradoxical view of Death as kind and pleasant. Dickinson immediately personifies Death as a cordial suitor who “kindly stopped for [the speaker]” as she was not ready to “stop for [him].” Whilst we may not be ready to stop our life and “put away our labor and leisure,” we have to face death at some point, whether we want to or not. By personifying Death, Dickinson establishes Death as more “civil” and caring for the human race, as he is part of us. Dickinson uses the words “kindly” and “civil” to imply that although we may fear Death, Death does not bring us any harm. Death does not come abruptly and take away everything we once had. It comes “slowly” and with “no haste,” and greets us with friendliness and comfort. By implying its slowness, Dickinson also manages to make Death seem less violent and frightening, but rather calm and tranquil as he makes us realize that our time has come on the inevitable cycle to depart from the physical world. Death does not want us to feel pain or suffering as it escorts the speaker in a “carriage,” which generally signifies luxury and prestige. After the speaker enters the carriage, Dickinson goes from saying “he” to “we” to establish a sense of unity between the two, and as the speaker has come to terms with reality, she joins Death as they depart on an eternal journey together. Death also takes care of people, burying them in “houses” underground rather than coffins which act more like a prison.Sound is used in the poem to reflect both death and the surroundings of the speaker. Although a rhyme scheme is not present, Dickinson alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter to create a sound of a trotting horse, living the reader into the moment in time. In the first two lines of stanza four, as “dews drew quivering and chill,” there is an abnormality as the meter does not follow the rest of the poem. Here, the speaker realizes that just like the sun must come down, she too must leave the physical world sooner or later. Death is now reality, and as she realizes that, there is a break in the poem to mirror the unpleasant chills that the speaker feels. The use of iambic meter throughout the whole poem also serves to create a lively and joyous feeling rather than one of sorrow. The length of the journey is highlighted by the use of anaphora. The repetition of the clause “we passed” serves to highlight the many things they saw on their journey and the sounding repetition helps to join the events as one unit that they passed on their long journey. She also uses alliteration in all of the lines in stanza three to signify that they are all similar and intertwined together as one whole life, where what one does in one stage of their life affects all the other stages of one’s life.To conclude, Dickinson’s portrayal of death is a paradoxical one of kindness rather than fear as she comforts the reader about the inevitable. By metaphorically relating death to a carriage ride, she redefines our belief in a pleasant eternal afterlife, where life still carries on in a secondary world.