Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is quite different from other poems dealing with the topic of death and mortality. Her perception of death is not as horrifying as conceived by most people. This can be seen through her effective use of poetic devices. Dickinson also tries to convey her thoughts about life and death in this poem. The main purpose of this poem is to persuade the readers that death is not something to be afraid of; it is inevitable, and once we overcome our fear, we will realize that death is merely a gateway to eternity.
Unlike most poems with themes about death, Dickinson presents her poem in a more serene atmosphere, rather than one that is petrifying. It does not show darkness of Death: taking people’s life away. Instead, Dickinson personifies Death in her poem as a gentleman, which is extremely different from the common terrifying images people relate to when they hear about Death. Being a gentleman, Death is not in a hurry to finish his task of taking away the speaker’s life: “We slowly drove – [Death] knew no haste” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). From this line, it seems like an enjoyable journey on the carriage for them. The usage of metaphor in the fifth stanza also helps to prevent an intimidating atmosphere. Instead of out right saying that they stopped in front of a grave, Dickinson refers to it as a “House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground -” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). This provides a gentler image to readers. Besides using poetic devices for altering the mood of the poem, Dickinson also uses them to stress on other issues. The journey itself is full of symbols. Together with Immortality, the speaker and Death passes by the school, the fields of grain and the setting sun, which are symbols for different stages of her life. The school and children represents the speaker’s childhood, the fields of grain represents adulthood, and the setting sun represents old age. Dickinson incorporates many use of alliteration in describing the images seen. For example, in line 10 of the poem, she writes: “At Recess – in the Ring -” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout), in order to point out the ring as a symbol for the circle of life. Death is not an end, with it comes another beginning towards eternity. She also repeats the word “passed” three times in the same stanza. By doing so, she emphasizes on the fact that all these memories of her life is in the past, as she will soon be dead.
Dickinson includes comparisons within this poem. The first comparison can be observed between stanza three and stanza four. The tone of the poem suddenly changes from bright and warm to dark and cold. This is shown after the setting sun “passed” them, and “The Dews drew quivering and Chill -” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). Also, the liveliness of the children playing during recess from the previous stanza turns into the inactiveness of the chilly night. This suggests that the journey is about to end. Apart from the contrast of the tone, there is also a difference in Dickinson’s writing technique. Up until the last stanza, everything described in the poem is specific and straightforward. However, there is a sense of uncertainty in the last stanza when the speaker says she “first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity -” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). This is a powerful ending; it leaves the readers wondering and “surmising” along with the speaker what eternity is like.
Dickinson’s idea of life is expressed in this poem. It can be seen at the beginning that the speaker is a very busy person. The speaker has not accomplished things she wants to do on earth yet, so “[she] could not stop for Death”. Therefore, “he kindly stopped for [her] -” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). This tells the readers that no one can anticipate death. We cannot delay it in any ways. It will come to us, whether we are ready or not. So we should make good use of our time and not leave regrets in life. Dickinson writes this poem about death differently from other poems with the same theme to illustrate the idea of not being afraid to die. Death allows us to put all the troubling things in life aside as the speaker had done so in the poem: “And I had put away / My labor and my leisure too” (Dickinson, Poetry Handout). By doing so, we can gain peace in the world after life. Therefore, people should not be frightened by death; it is simply a process to eternity. That is why the speaker and Death only “pause” before the grave; they are just resting to prepare for the trip towards eternity.
Under Emily Dickinson’s brilliant composing techniques, this poem attempts to change people’s perspective of death. Not only is this poem different in mood from other poems based upon the same theme, it also presents a unique character of “Death” that is rarely found in other poems. People are afraid of death because they are afraid of what will be taken away from them once death comes. However, in Dickinson’s point of view, once you face this great fear, you will receive great rewards — eternity.