Analysis of "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"
The poets of the nineteenth century wrote on a variety of topics. One often used topic is that of death. The theme of death has been approached in many different ways. Emily Dickinson is one of the numerous poets who uses death as the subject of several of her poems. In her poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," death is portrayed as a gentleman who comes to give the speaker a ride to eternity. Throughout the poem, Dickinson develops her unusual interpretation of death and, by doing so, composes a poem full of imagery that is both unique and thought provoking. Through Dickinson's precise style of writing, effective use of literary elements, and vivid imagery, she creates a poem that can be interpreted in many different ways.
The precise form that Dickinson uses throughout "Because" helps convey her message to the reader. The poem is written in five quatrains. The way in which each stanza is written in a quatrain gives the poem unity and makes it easy to read. "I Could Not Stop for Death" gives the reader a feeling of forward movement through the second and third quatrain. For example, in line 5, Dickinson begins death's journey with a slow, forward movement, which can be seen as she writes, "We slowly drove-He knew no haste." The third quatrain seems to speed up as the trinity of death, immortality, and the speaker pass the children playing, the fields of grain, and the setting sun one after another. The poem seems to get faster and faster as life goes through its course. In lines 17 and 18, however, the poem seems to slow down as Dickinson writes, "We paused before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground-." The reader is given a feeling of life slowly ending. Another way in which Dickinson uses the form of the poem to convey a message to the reader occurs on line four as she writes, "And Immortality." Eunice Glenn believes that the word "Immortality" is given a line by itself to show its importance (qtd. in Davis 107). Perhaps the most notable way in which Dickinson uses form is when she ends the poem with a dash. Judith Farr believes that the dash seems to indicate that the poem is never ending, just as eternity is never ending (331). In conclusion, Dickinson's form helps the reader begin to comprehend the poem.
Figurative language is one of the literary elements that Dickinson uses to help convey hidden messages to the reader. Alliteration is used several times throughout the poem. An example of alliteration occurs in lines 9 through 12:
We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess-in the Ring-
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-
We passed the Setting Sun-
Alliteration is used four times in the third quatrain alone. Bettina Knapp states that, "the alliterations...depict a continuity of scenes, thereby emphasizing the notion of never-endingness." Another type of figurative language that is used is repetition. The first instance of repetition occurs in lines 9, 11, and 12 as she writes, "We passed" three times. The speaker in the poem is passing through everything that she has already lived through, thus giving the reader a sense of life going by. Another instance of repetition occurs in the fourth stanza. Dickinson repeats the word "ground" in lines 18 and 20 to help remind the reader that she is describing a grave, not a house. Figurative language is also used as Dickinson creates two instances of perfect rhyme. The first time perfect rhyme is used is in lines 2 and 4 with the rhyming of the words "me" and "immortality." The second, and last, time perfect rhyme is used is in lines 18 and 20 as she repeats the word "ground." All in all, Dickinson'suse of figurative language contributes to the meaning of the poem.
Another literary element that Dickinson uses in her poem is tone, which is used to help create the general mood of the poem....
Cited: Adventures in American Literature, Pegasus Edition. Ed. Francis Hodgins.
Dallas: HBJ, 1989. 330.
American Literature: The Makers and the Making. Ed. Cleanth Brooks. Vol. 2.
New York: SMP, 1973. 1250.
Davis, Thomas M. 14 by Emily Dickinson. Dallas: SFC, 1964. 101-18.
Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge: HUP, 1992. 329-31.
Knapp, Bettina L. Emily Dickinson. New York: CPC, 1989. 91-5.
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