The Poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death Explained
Death Stops for No One Jaime Hayes Death Stops for No One The poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson is an extended metaphor on death, comparing it to a journey with a polite gentleman in a carriage taking the speaker on a ride to eternity. Through unusual symbolism, personification and ironic metaphors Dickinson subjugates that death is an elusive yet subtle being. Dickinson portrays death as an optimistic endeavor while most people have a gruesome perspective of death.
This poem’s setting mirrors the circumstances by which death approaches, and death seems kind and compassionate.This poem is written in six quatrains. They are broken up into when she first meets death, through their carriage ride observing different stages of life to death and ultimately, to eternity. These quatrains give the poem unity and make it easy to read and interpret. The cadence of this poem, which is sneakily undulating, is lulling and attractive; you can almost imagine it being set to the clomping of the horses’ hooves. Although the conversation is set between the speaker and Death, the horses’ hooves always seem to be in the background.The first quatrain starts out with the speaker communicating in past tense about death being a kind gentleman coming to stop for her, implying that she is already dead. Death is personified and introduced as one of the leading character and is also the focus of the poem; “Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me. ” (Dickinson, 1863, 1-2) By endowing death with human characteristics it becomes less frightening to the speaker as well as the reader. The fact that he “kindly” stopped is both a reassurance that his arrival was not unpleasant and an expression of the poet’s wit.It is ironic in a humorous way that death is kind. The speaker could not stop for death, meaning she is not ready to die, but death came anyway. Here, it becomes clear that death is inescapable and arrives on its own time. Death stops being an end and becomes instead the beginning of eternal life. When Death stops for her, he is accompanied by Immortality inside their carriage; “The Carriage held but just Ourselves/And Immortality. ” (Dickinson, 1863, 3-4) The carriage is a metaphor for the way in which we make our final passage into death; a mode of transportation to the afterlife.At the time the poem was written a man and a woman were typically escorted by a chaperone, in this poem, Immortality is their chaperone. Immortality is also the reward or reason for the two, the speaker and Death, coming together. If the promise of immortality did not exist, one would never go along willingly, nor would one welcome death without fear. Dickinson begins the second quatrain as death’s journey, which is a slow, forward movement, which can be seen through the writing; “We slowly drove – he knew no haste. (Dickinson, 1863, 5) The slow ride emphasizes the seriousness and solemn nature of this carriage ride or perhaps implies a slow and painful death by a debilitating disease. A sense of tranquility is felt here, as though the speaker is well acquainted with the fact that this ride will be her last. The speaker does not resist this ride but instead gives up her labor and leisure and succumbs to death; “And I had put away/My labor and my leisure too/For his civility. ” (Dickinson, 1863, p. 6-8)The cadence of the poem begins to speed up as Death, Immortality and the speaker continue on their journey; “We passed the School, where Children strove/At Recess – in the Ring-/We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain/We passed the Setting Sun. ” (Dickinson, 1863, 9-12) All three of these images suggest different stages of life; the children in the school yard at recess depict the early stages of life, the fields of grazing grain represent the middle stages of life and adulthood, the setting of the sun is the final stage of life.She notices the daily routine that she is leaving behind, but continues not to fight with Death. In this quatrain, Dickinson uses an anaphora “We passed” in order to help the poem progress as well as tie it together to reinforce that the different stages of life are passing them by. Here, one can assume the trip takes a while, as it was light when the journey began and now the sun is setting and night begins. The poem slows back down again as the fourth quatrain begins and death seems to be setting in; “Or rather – He passed Us. ” (Dickinson, 1863, 13) This line refers to the setting of the sun from the previous quatrain.This symbolizes the transition from life to death, the sun passes them referring to how she is beyond the concept of time and she descends into eternity. There is a reference to the change in temperature and how the speaker is not dressed appropriately for this change; “The Dews drew quivering and chill-/For only Gossamer, my Gown/My Tippet – only Tulle. ” (Dickinson, 1863, 14-16) This quatrain suggests not only the literal coldness that comes from not dressing appropriately, but also the emotional coldness that occurs when dealing with ones death.The only physical entities that hold value to the speaker anymore are now her Gossamer gown and her tippet made from tulle. The fifth quatrain describes the grave or tomb the carriage has arrived at, relating it to a house; “We passed before a House that seemed/A Swelling of the Ground/The Roof was scarcely visible/The Cornice in the Ground” (Dickinson, 1863, 17-20) The way the grave is being described implies a sense of comfort for the speaker. Metaphorically, cornice in the ground is the speaker’s coffin, or more specifically the molding around the coffins lid. Here, it is the only visible part of the house itself.The graves description and the fact that there is no door, only a roof, suggests that there is no escape from death once she enters the house. The poem ends with what seems like the speaker looking back on her life from her final destination in eternity. Time suddenly loses meaning, hundreds of years feel no different than a day; “Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet/Feels shorter than the Day (Dickinson, 1863, 21-22) The setting shifts in this last quatrain when the reader finds out the place in the beginning of the poem is from long ago and the speaker is telling this story long into the afterlife.Immortality is the goal hinted at in the first quatrain where “Immortality” is the other occupant in the carriage, yet it is not until this quatrain that we see the speaker has obtained it. As the speaker is looking at the past events through an eternal looking glass, she says that life, like the “Horses’ Heads” that picked her up, leads toward “Eternity. ” In this last quatrain death ceases to be what death is, an end, but instead becomes an eternal journey of immortality.By ending with the word “eternity” the poem itself performs this eternity trailing off into the infinite. It is shown through Dickinson’s use of unconventional metaphors that no matter what one thinks about life and how busy one may be; death is never too busy to stop for anyone. Dickinson’s feelings are expressed through unusual symbolism to the reader; comparing death to a carriage ride with a kind gentleman and immortality. It is through the promise of immortality that fear is removed and death not only becomes acceptable, but welcomed as well.