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Bacause I Could Not Stop For Death

In Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death ” (448), the speaker of the poem is a woman who relates about a situation after her death. The speaker personifies death as a polite and considerate gentleman who takes her in a carriage for a romantic journey; however, at the end of this poem, she finishes her expedition realizing that she has died many years ago.

The poem contains six quatrains, and does not follow any consistent rhyme scheme. Every line starts with a strong beat and ends up with a weak beat. The first and third lines in each stanza have iambic tetrameter, but the second and fourth lines do not contain any consistent meter. The feet generate a rhythm the following way.

Bevcause/ Iv | could/ notV | stop/ | forv Death/

Hev kind/lyv | stopped/ | forv me/

This rhythm mimics the sound of horses’ hooves on the ground. Emily Dickinson correlates the speaker’s expression of her journey “toward Eternity-“(l. 24) with horses’ hoofed feet in her allegory (Class note).

In the first stanza, she begins her journey with a refined gentleman named Death who takes her in the carriage. Even though in the first line “Because I could not stop for Death” (l. 1), the poet gives us a hint of the speaker’s disappearance in the world, the speaker thinks that she is still alive. The poet chooses a special term “Immortality” (l. 4) to show that at the beginning of her journey the speaker is young and enthusiastic to tell about her existence of life in the world and that she cannot think of dying.

In the second stanza, Death drives her so smoothly and gently that the ride makes her very happy. She is so naive and adolescent that she leaves her worldly activities and gets ready to go out and spend time with her boyfriend. She gives him her possessions: her “labor” and “leisure” too (l. 7) for his politeness.

Figuratively, in stanza three, the poem symbolizes the three stages of life: childhood represented by “Children strove” (l. 9), youth represented by “the Fields of Gazing Grains” (l. 11) and the end of the life represented by “the Setting Sun” (l. 12). On the way of her journey, the speaker views children struggling to win in the race in School. She also sees cereal grasses collectively in the field, and at last the speaker perceives with her eyes that the sun is setting on the way of her journey. This stanza gives us a clue of her passing by this world; however the speaker is not able to figure out that she is dead. She simply thinks the sun is setting on a regular basis.

The first line of stanza four “Or rather– He passed Us” (l. 13) demonstrates that the speaker is uncertain about her existence in the world. Now she feels that her life symbolized by the sun is passing by. She becomes chilled by the “dews” (l. 14). Lines three and four in this stanza illustrate the reason for her coldness. The speaker is attired in a light “Gown” (l. 15) and cape or “Tippet” made of “Tulle” (l. 16), which is a kind of thin, transparent, open meterial. When people die, they are attired with this kind of dresses, so she figures out that she is dead.

Stanza five demonstrates that at the end of her journey, the poem’s speaker reaches Death’s house. The speaker views her own grave. In a literal sense, as the carriage gains altitude to make its heavenly approach, a house seems as ” A Swelling of the Ground” (l. 18). The third and fourth lines in this stanza ” The Roof was scarcely visible–/ The Cornice – in the Ground” (ll. 19-20) emphasize that she is buried in the earth.

In stanza six, the speaker recalls that she had died on earth centuries ago, but she feels that time is “shorter than the Day” (l. 22) she realized that she is dead. The words of the final stanza make it comprehensible that she is in a shocking situation at the end of her journey. It dawns on her that her journey is towards endless death: ” the Horses Heads/ Were toward Eternity–” (ll. 23-24).

Emily Dickinson uses a conflict relationship between reality and the speaker’s thought. At first, the speaker cannot realize that she has died. From the carriage, she sees her childhood, her youth, and then her final years. The over all tone of this poem seems mixed. It seems that Dickinson changes the tone along with the stanzas. In the first three stanzas, the tone is joyous and happy. In the fourth stanza, the tone seems to be contemplative; the speaker is confused about her existence in the world. However, in the last two stanzas, Dickinson uses a sad tone; the speaker perceives the reality, and becomes calm when she realizes her destiny.

Dickinson, Emily “Because I could not stop for Death” in Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (compact Edition). Ed. Robert Diyanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. (Pp. 448-449).
Class notes: English 102. Dr. Comins. LaGuardia C.C. Date: 10/16/00 and 10/18/00

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