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Literary Analysis of Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"

Rukhaya MK, an award-winning writer, has published her works in national and international anthologies and journals.

"Because I Could Not Stop for Death"

"Because I Could Not Stop for Death"

"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 –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –


In Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," the poetess has apostrophized Death as a courteous gentleman as opposed to the traditional image of Death as the Universal Enemy. One wonders if the comparison is made in a sarcastic tone, for death is far from any adjective associated with civility. As the genteel driver, it is his job to steer her to immortality. Immortality is described as the other passenger in the carriage that intends to transport them to eternity. The speaker is completely at ease, as she is, as the drive progresses in a leisurely manner. Emily Dickinson's solitude in her personal life and her obsession with the concept of death may have led the poetess to personify abstract concepts like death and eternity. Note that the adjective"kindly" signifies the civility and courteous nature of death.

Emily Dickinson states that they were not in a hurry as she was well-acquainted with the fact that the ride was to be their last one. She puts aside both her leisure and labor for him. Leisure and labor are the two sides of the same coin-Life. Life is mechanical without leisure, and one realizes the value of leisure only when there is labor.

They pass the children playing at school-at recess -in the ring. The 'ring' probably refers to the vicious cycle of life, the 'recess' to the breaks life has to offer. The activity of the children is juxtaposed against the passivity of Nature. Emily Dickinson talks of the children, the grazing grain, and the setting sun in this stanza. She, therefore, attempts at condensing the animate world, vegetative world, and inanimate world. She notices the daily routine that she leaves behind-the three stages of feminity, children, fertility (fields), and procreation (grazing grain).

As she was caught in the static concept of death, it appeared that the sun was kinetic and had passed them. By asserting the sun had passed them, she also refers to how she is beyond the concept of time now, as she transcends into Eternity. The reference to the chilling dew may also connote the "chill of death".
The only physical entities that hold value in the earthly existence are now are her Gossamer, gown, tippet, and tulle. Only these hold material value as now the body is devoid of its soul. The two concluding stanzas exemplify a marked progressive decrease in precision and concreteness. This echoes her gradual transition to death. The "House" seems like a swelling of the ground. The house is identified with the grave from the "roof" that is "scarcely visible" and the "cornice"- the molding around the coffin's lid. This was supposed to be the ultimate destination.

Yet, the poetess claims: Since then-'tis centuries-and yet Feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horses' heads Were toward Eternity.

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© 2018 Rukhaya M K


Sanjay kumar Mali on June 16, 2019:

Very useful for students.

Chicken nuggets on December 08, 2018:

well explained on August 08, 2018:

i find it useful

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