Emily Dickinson was one of the greatest American poets of the 1800 s. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. While alive, she published only eleven of her nearly 2, 000 poems. An accurate and complete edition of her poems appeared in 1955. Dickinson's fame and influence grew rapidly after the release of the book. Dickinson most often used iambic tetrameter and off-rhymes in her writing.
In her earlier works, Dickinson used conventional poetic techniques. Later she arranged and broke lines of verse in very unusual ways to emphasize meaning. She used common, everyday language in new and astonishing ways. Dickinson's poetic lines were shortened by the use of metaphors and wide use of ellipsis, or omitting words understood to be there. Her poems were "simply constructed yet intensely felt." She wrote about issues essential to life: the joys and sorrows of love, God and religious beliefs, nature, immorality, the horrors of war, and the unfathomable nature of death. Perhaps it is her writings on the latter that most remember her ("Emily Dickinson").
Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death -" is one of her most discussed and famous poems due to its extremely interesting and different view on the subject of death. In this poem, death is told as a woman's last trip, which is to eternity. By personifying death, she makes it seem passive and peaceful, rather than brutal and cruel. She also adds to this effect by using vivid imagery and metaphors, as well as rhythm, to create a poem that plays out in the reader's mind like a movie. The poem tells that death is natural and unstoppable for everybody, but it is not the end of a soul's journey. Dickinson wants the reader to view death as being an inevitable change, rather than an end to existence.
In the first stanza, the speaker begins with the line "Because I could not stop for Death-" (Dickinson 190). This causes the reader to ask why she could not stop. Perhaps she could not stop because she was so wrapped up in her own life, so busy, that she did not think about death. Though the speaker did not stop for death, she proceeds to say "He kindly stopped for me-" (Dickinson 190). This tells the reader that while one may be unprepared for death, it will come anyway, the inevitable end to all life on Earth. Also in the carriage with the speaker and Death is Immortality.
The speaker comments on the politeness of Death, kindly stopping for her, as if Death were a gentleman picking her up for a date and as if Immortality were the chaperone. By personifying death and immortality, the two become more understandable. The speaker shares the carriage with Death and Immortality, two opposites, Death being the end of life and Immortality being everlasting life. Death is present for the physical self, and Immortality is present for one's soul, which many believe to be eternal. The second stanza begins with "We slowly drove-He knew no haste" (Dickinson 191). This line shows how humans' perception of time and its passage differs from that of immortal beings.
While humans perceive one lifetime to be a rather significant amount of time, one lifetime is only a speck on eternity's scroll to immortal beings. By driving slowly, Death demonstrates that he is above such human conceptions such as time. The speaker goes on to say that she "had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility" (Dickinson 191). This shows how people spend so much of their time working or being distracted with play and foolishness that they don't bother to think about death until it comes knocking at their door. The speaker nonchalantly sets everything aside to go with Death and his "civility" to an unknown destination. In the third stanza, the speaker describes things as they pass.
These things can be interpreted as three phases of life. "We passed the School, where Children strove / At recess - in the Ring -" (Dickinson 191) represents childhood. "We passed the Fields of Grazing Grain-" (Dickinson 191) represents maturity and adulthood. "We passed the Setting sun-" (Dickinson 191) represents old age. The fourth stanza goes on to say "Or rather - He passed Us -" (Dickinson 191). This line is referring to the setting sun.
While the speaker previously stated that she had passed the setting sun, she now sees that it was actually the sun that passed her by, as life quickly passed her by. Before she knew it, "The Dews drew quivering and chill - / For only Gossamer, my Gown - / My Tippet - only Tulle -" (Dickinson 191). In these lines the speaker's temporal existence, which allows her to quiver as she is chilled by the "Dew," merges with the spiritual universe, as the speaker is attired in a "Gown" and cape or "Tippet," made respectively of "Gossamer," and "Tulle," a kind of thin, open net-temporal coverings that suggest transparent, spiritual qualities. In the fifth stanza, the carriage approaches and pauses before a house that was "A Swelling of the Ground- / The Roof was scarcely visible - / The Cornice - in the Ground -" (Dickinson 191). This creates the picture in one's mind of a dwelling of some sort completely submerged in the ground, being that the cornice, a top course that crowns a wall, was in the ground. Perhaps this description is meant to depict a grave, as the speaker passes a symbol of death when nearing her journey's end.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker is finished telling her tale of death. She says "Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet / Feels shorter than the Day" (Dickinson 191). The speaker is again referring to the differing concepts of time of humans and those living eternally. Though she is remembering all of this from centuries ago, she feels as if it were only a short time ago.
.".. the Day / I first surmised the Horses Heads / Were toward Eternity -" (Dickinson 191). These lines tell of when the speaker first realized she was riding in the carriage towards eternity. This poem will continue to be discussed and reviewed by all for its wonderful imagery and thought-provoking message. Emily Dickinson is undoubtedly the most widely-known female poet and one of the leading writers in American literature. Works Cited Dickinson, Emily.
"Because I Could Not Stop for Death." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 6 th ed. Vol. C. Ed. Nina Bay.
New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. 190-191. "Emily Dickinson." Poets.
org. 14 Jun 2001. 9 Jul 2003.