The Poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death Explained

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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...
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