An analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Poem “Because I could not stop for Death” The background of Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet of the 19th century. Her writing style is quiet weird at that time. Here is a description of Emily Dickinson from the book The recognition of Emily Dickinson: selected criticism since 1890, “Her poetry is not like any other poetry of her time; it is not like any of the innumerable kinds of verse written today.” Therefore, her literary status was not very high until the middle of 20th century. The following is an introduction from Wikipedia. Dickinson lived an introverted and hermetic life. Although she wrote, at the last count, 1,789 poems, only a handful of them were published during her lifetime. All of these were published anonymously and some may have been published without her knowledge.
This poem of Emily Dickinson “Because I could not stop for Death” is the number 712 which is one of those unpublished poems during her lifetime. There are a great number of her poems which concerning the subject “Death.” And this one “Because I could not stop for Death” is a typical of her works. Analysis of “Because I could not stop for Death”
Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
The writer clearly points out the main idea of this poem in the first stanza. Unlike ordinary people’s feeling of death, the description of death in this poem is very different or even weird. From death to immortality, the tone of Emily Dickinson seems very free and easy. It seems that death is nothing more than a happy journey on a breezy day. The Death in here looks like a kindly gentleman instead of a Grim Reaper. Blake and Wells have a statement in their book, “He is a gentleman taking a lady out for a drive . . . The terror of death is objectified through this figure of the genteel driver, who is made ironically to serve the end of Immortality.” The leader of the journey to Immortality is Death. Usually we consider death as the end of life, however, the writer gives us a totally different idea of Immortality—Death itself is Immortality.
We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—
The journey starts in this stanza with a slowly speed. The first phrase indicates that this journey is so restful. Their pace is so slowly that you cannot smell any fear in the air. Johnson said, Since she understands it to be a last ride, she of course expects it to be unhurried. . . She is therefore quite willing to put aside her work. And again, since it is to be her last ride, she dispense with her spare moments as well as her active ones. Because she understands it to be a last ride, she can put her labor and leisure away. Labor and leisure symbolize her life before the coming of Death. Now, Death takes her away, and perhaps will never back.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—a
Miller said in his book Emily Dickinson, a poet's grammar, “With the reiteration of ‘passed’ in the third stanza and the increasing awareness of time, the slow journey begins to hasten.” It is sure that the use of “passed” three in a row in this four line stanza must have some special meaning. The speed of the poem accelerates when they passed the memory. In this stanza, the poet reviews the whole life of a human being. One by one, they passed the school, the fields of gazing grain, and the setting sun. These three images symbolizes different period of man’s life. School symbolizes childhood, the fields symbolize mid-life, and finally the setting sun symbolizes the old age. The following is a statement from the book...
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