Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"
The theme of death and immortality has been approached in many different ways by poets. Emily Dickinson is one of the numerous poets who use death and immortality as the theme of several of her poems. David Baker writes, “Emily Dickinson is gloriously at home with death, her weirdly familiar afterlife, and the language of that other world” (Baker 2005). In her poem "Because I could not stop for Death," she portrays death as a kind gentleman who comes to give the speaker a ride to eternity. Through Dickinson 's effective use of symbols, metaphors, and vivid imagery, she creates a poem that takes the reader on a journey with death and immortality.
The journey begins in the first stanza with the speaker being too busy to stop for death, so death stops for her. Death is personified as a kind suitor when the speaker says, “He kindly stopped for me-” (Dickinson line 2). Death picks her up in a carriage as if they were going on a date. The carriage in which death and the speaker ride is a metaphor for the way in which we make our final earthly passage from death to the afterlife. The carriage becomes the symbol for the mode of transportation to eternity. While riding with death, the speaker becomes aware that there is another presence in the carriage; “The Carriage held but just Ourselves- / And Immortality” (3- 4). This is the first hint we get that the speaker doesn 't think of death as the end, but as a step on the way to eternal life or an afterlife of some sort. In the second stanza we see that the journey is not rushed, but is proceeding at a leisurely pace “We slowly drove-He knew no haste” (5). The speaker seems to be enjoying the ride and is not fearful of death. So much so that she has given up the worries and joys of life in exchange for his kindness; “And I had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility” (6, 7, 8). Death in fact, seems to be a friendly companion in her journey.
Cited: Baker, David. “Elegy and Eros: configuring grief.” Virginia Quarterly Review 81.2 (2005): 207. ABELL. Web. 7 Apr. 2012 Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for Death.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 10th ed. Ed. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2010. 1162. Print Wilson, Eric. "Dickinson 's Chemistry Of Death." Atq 12.1 (1998): 27. World History Collection. Web. 7 Apr. 2012.