The analysis of the relationship between the life experiences and belief Emily Dickinson held and her poems by analyzing “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886), an American poet, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Living in a successful family which had an important status in the community, she lived a very introverted life. After having spent seven years in Amherst Academy, she carried on studying in Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for a short period of time. The locals considered her as an eccentric. Maybe this was the reason why she started to be noted for wearing white clothing, and seldom greeting visitors. One of her closest friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson said:” Emily emerged from her wonted retirement and did her part as gracious hostess; nor would any one have known from her manner, I have been told, that this was not a daily occurrence.” (http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext01/1mlyd10.txt)
Dickinson’s introverted world let her develop her unique thought and tone. Having never thought of letting the poems be published--it was called “the Poetry of the Portfolio,” --her poems were the full display of a writer’s own mind. However, the few works published in her life time were largely altered by the publishers to fit the contemporary poetic rules.
Dickinson’s poems were unique in her times. Besides the unconventional writing format of poetry: “containing short lines, typically lack titles, and often utilize slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation,” her religious belief and the unconventional utterance were evident to be perceived. “She loved to speak of a compassionate Savior and the grandeur of the Scriptures, but she disliked the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of institutional church.” We can infer that the writer possessed her distinctive way to appreciate God. Moreover, she often mentioned immortality, death, and eternity in her poems. In Because I Could Not Stop for Death (1924),
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
In the first stanza she portrayed the approach of death. In Calvinist dogma, “it is true that death passed upon all men through the First Adam” since he was expelled from the Garden and lost the reliance of immortality from Tree of Life and thus made death certain. (http://geocities.com/shsnj_2000/theology/calvinism.html)
The same belief can be inferred in the last stanza:
Since then 't is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
The underlined two lines indicate that Dickinson assumed that with the accompanying of death she was resuming and reentering the immortality.
After the sketchy understanding of the religious part of her composing background, then the following is the subconscious part of her composing background. According to William Cullen Bryant and Henry Thoreau, we can apply many of the characteristics of Dickinson’s verse in this poem:
“2. Her style is elliptical -- she will say no more than she must --suggesting either a quality of uncertainty or one of finality.” For example, she held the word eternity until the last word of the last stanza to point out the main theme.
“3. Her lyrics are her highly subjective -- she knows no other consciousness.” Emily Dickinson altogether used three I and at least ten me and my in this poem. Because the extremely limited life circle and introverted world, it was nothing more easier than applying the protagonism (the first person point of view) in the verse.
“4. Ambiguity of meaning and syntax. Wrote Higginson: ‘She almost always grasped whatever she sought, but with some fracture of grammar and dictionary on the way.’” For example, in the fifth stanza:
We paused before a house that seemed (was)
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
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