Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous authors in American History, and a good amount of that can be attributed to her uniqueness in writing. In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death,” she characterizes her overarching theme of Death differently than it is usually described through the poetic devices of irony, imagery, symbolism, and word choice. Emily Dickinson likes to use many different forms of poetic devices and Emily’s use of irony in poems is one of the reasons they stand out in American poetry.
In her poem “Because I could not stop for Death,” she refers to “Death” in a good way. Dickinson states in the poem that “He kindly stopped for me –” (1103, 2). Death is not commonly known as being “kind”, which leads us to believe that Dickinson used this line to hint that death was a good thing. In the entire poem, she does not refer to death in a negative way. This shows more irony since death is often feared by many, either regarding themselves or other. This us of irony makes the poem more interesting to the reader.
Imagery is a big component to most works of poetry. Authors strive to achieve a certain image for the reader to paint in their mind. Dickinson tries to paint a picture of “death” in her own words. Thomas A. Johnson, an interpretive author of Dickinson’s work, says that “In 1863 Death came into full statue as a person. “Because I could not stop for Death” is a superlative achievement wherein Death becomes one of the greatest characters of literature” (Johnson). Dickinson’s picture to the audience is created by making “Death” an actual character in the poem.
By her constantly calling death either “his” or “he,” she denotes a specific person and gender. Dickinson also compares “Death” to having the same human qualities as the other character in the poem. She has “Death” physically arriving and taking the other character in the carriage with him. In the poem, Dickinson shows the reader her interpretation of what this person is going through as they are dying and being taken away by “Death”. Dickinson gives images such as “The Dews drew quivering and chill –” and “A Swelling of the Ground –” (14, 18).
In both of these lines, Dickinson has the reader conjure up subtle images of death. The “quivering an chill” brings to the reader’s mind of death being cold and fearful. The “swelling” has the audience image a freshly buried coffin at a plot where the character is being lead to by “Death” (14, 18). During this poem, Dickinson wants us to simply see her version of a person’s trip during death. The imagery is supposed to lead us into seeing what the author is describing. With poems often being short in length, symbolism helps the author expand on a theme by using very little words.
In “Because i could not stop for Death,” Dickinson uses symbolism to give more substance to the journey with “Death”. Dickinson symbolizes the ride in general as being a ride past her life to eternity. The setting sun is also a symbol for her dying life. As the sun sets and ends another day, her life ends as “Death” takes her toward eternity. Thomas H. Johnson interprets this by saying “the sun passed them, as it of course does all who are in the grave” (Johnson). In both cases, Dickinson symbolizes the “sun” as a way of ending things, connecting it to the character’s ending life.
Dickinson also uses the third stanza as a symbol of how everything will go on normally while the character is being lead to the afterlife. The children and grain are growing which represents new life or the future (Melani). This symbol shows that “Death” does not control everything, but can control on thing at a time. Symbolism is a key to many poems, to help the reader think deeper into the poem itself. In Emily Dickinson’s poem, the most important poetic device is her unique word choice. All of the other poetic devices discussed so far have a direct connection to the words Dickinson decided to use in the poem.
Throughout the poem, Dickinson decides to use certain words to describe “Death” as a human character. Dickinson presents “Death” as a person by referring to him as “kind” and “civil” (2, 8). This also tells the reader that Dickinson was trying to say something else when she chose the words. She changes the stereotypical view of “Death” into a more passive, gentle character. Showing his being “kind”, she shows that “Death” is not interested in just taking people to the afterlife. “Death” waits as he takes the character through a journey before entering “Eternity” (24).
Another word of importance is the term “passed”. Used many times, especially in the third stanza, has multiple meanings in the poem. The first physical aspect is her actual passing through on her journey with “Death”. The other meaning is that “They are also “passing” out of time into eternity” (Melani). Dickinson tries to emphasize that they are not only passing through on the journey, but passing on in life and moving to “Eternity” (24). Dickinson also ties the sun into symbolism, but her use of “sun” make sit an excellent word choice (12).
The sun which symbolized the ending day, also can be meant to pass over “all who are in the grave” (Johnson). With Emily Dickinson’s anomalous word choice and her emphasis on certain words, she creates an ultimately more interesting poem. In “Because I could not stop for Death,” Emily Dickinson uses many poetic devices to make her poem stand out among other poems centered around death. Dickinson’s use of irony, imagery, symbolism, and word choice adds to the overall effect of her view of “death” itself. The way she structured this poem helps her stand out as one of the greatest poets of all-time.