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Because I Could Not Stop for Death: An Analysis of Emily Dickinsons Style

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Emily Dickinson is a prolific poet, who is credited with composing several of the most influential works of poetry in American Literature. Her unique writing style coupled with her vivid use of symbolism creates an amazing experience for her readers.

In her poems entitled, “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died," "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," and "Because I could not stop for Death," Dickinson uses symbolism throughout to highlight the themes of life, death, and madness to create a truly compelling story.

In the first poem, “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died," death is originally personified as swift and without pain. Following this rather rudimentary explanation, the poem additionally alludes to the inherently appalling nature of death. She explains this dichotomy by presenting the fly in the story as harmless and nothing more than a slight annoyance to the narrator initially, but by the last stanza the reader is offered a glimpse into the actual dreadful nature of the fly.

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With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,

Between the light and me;

And then the windows failed, and then

I could not see to see. (Dickinson 13-16)

The main use of symbolism in the work is expressed by the use of symbolism that surrounds the fly. The fly makes a physical appearance in three stanzas and serves as a metaphorical explanation of what the speaker experiences as she journeys ever closer to death. This literal and metaphorical symbol personifies death as an intense moment of expectation, one of true waiting. The author describes a "stillness in the air," (3) as the viewers of her death are quiet, and the only perceivable noise is the fly's persistent buzzing.

The speaker's tone throughout the piece is calm, often very flat; her narrative matter-of-fact and concise. The summation of these factors createsa deeply moving piece, whose symbolism highlights the bone-dry nature death. In the second poem, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," Dickinson details the narrator's swift descent into complete madness.

The poem takes place at a funeral and thus, the symbolic nature of the surroundings are used to metaphorically describe the narrator's loss of mental grounding. In the poem, the mourners are used symbolically to detail the narrator's mental pain and anguish. Their physical treading indicates a metaphorical pressure that is pushing her down and continues to do so until she loses touch with reality.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll (Dickinson 9-12)

This section details the narrator's brief impression that reason, or "sense" (4) is escaping or being lost. The feeling of weight, or resistance caused by the treading is reasserted with the use of repetition, "beating, beating" (7). This time, the narrator's mind is the root of her subpar reasoning, noted by her feeling increasingly "numb" (8).

As the passage continues, you can further trace the narrator's irrationality into the third and fourth stanzas. The last two lines of stanza four reassess her mental condition; she sees herself as "wrecked, solitary" (16).

The narrator's journey into madness distances her from other people, which makes her a member of "some strange race" (15) This alienation and general inability to communicate with people are displayed most notably by her silence in the passage. The last stanza in the work paints a very grim picture of the narrator's mental condition, as the finally loses her bearings with reality.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then-- (Dickinson 17-20)

Finally, in Emily Dickinson's work entitled, “Because I could not stop for Death,” death is personified as a man looking to romantically entice the narrator. The poem details the life of the narrator, as time progresses and she makes her journey from a young person into maturity. The long ride in the poem is used symbolically to show her leaving life behind and entering death.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun. (Dickinson 9-12)

This use of symbolism is important to the poem's plot, because it aids in depicting death as an elusive and cunning suitor and creates a sense of a journey within the piece. Following the metaphorical journey through life, the reader is clued into the possibly grim nature of Death and his ill intentions.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle. (Dickinson 13-16)

Throughout Emily Dickinson's poetry, symbolism is used to depict several themes including; life, death, and madness. These themes are especially important in the stories, “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died," "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," and "Because I could not stop for Death.”

The use of symbols in these stories acts in such a way, that they allow the readera unique glimpse into the mind of the author and additionally they serve to create a cohesive theme throughout each work.

Works Cited

  • Dickinson, Emily. "1668.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 1861. Print. --- "1673."The Norton Anthology of American Literature.
  • Ed. Nina Baym. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 1862. Print. --- "1683." Tahe Norton Anthology of American Literature.
  • Ed. Nina Baym. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 1862. Print.
  • Evans, Robert C. "Toward Eternity: The Final Journey in Emily Dickinson's 'Because I Could Not Stop for Death'." Bloom's Literary Themes (Bloom's Literary Themes). Eds. Bloom,
  • Harold and Blake Hobby. New York, NY: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. xvii, 244 pp.

Related Questions

on Because I Could Not Stop for Death: An Analysis of Emily Dickinsons Style

Why is Emily Dickinson's “because I could not stop for death” famous?

Though Dickinson’s influence was not celebrated while she was alive, she’s now considered one of the defining poets of her time period. Additionally, “Because I could not stop for Death” is recognized as one of Dickinson’s most widely read poems. “Because I could not stop for Death” is a lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson.

How does Emily Dickinson use symbolism in her poems?

In her poems entitled, “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died," "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," and "Because I could not stop for Death," Dickinson uses symbolism throughout to highlight the themes of life, death, and madness to create a truly compelling story.

Is “because I could not stop for death” a completed poem?

Because Dickinson herself never authorized the publication of her poetry, it’s not known whether “Because I could not stop for Death” was a completed or unfinished work. But that hasn’t stopped it from being widely read and studied. Find the full text of the poem below:

How does Emily Dickinson express joy in the poem just lost?

In the early poem "Just lost, when I was saved!" (160), Emily Dickinson expresses joyful assurance of immortality by dramatizing her regret about a return to life after she — or an imagined speaker — almost died and received many vivid and thrilling hints about a world beyond death.

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Because I Could Not Stop for Death: An Analysis of Emily Dickinsons Style. (2017, May 28). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/not-stop-death-analysis-emily-dickinsons-style/

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