?Because I Could Not Stop For Death?,? By Emily Dickinson Essay, Research Paper
‘Because I could not stop for Death—,’ A Poem of Both Marriage and Death
When thinking of both marriage and death, the word “eternity” comes to mind. Marriage is looked at as a symbol of eternal love, and death is looked at as a state of eternal rest. Also, Christians consider life after death as an eternal state. In “Because I could not stop for Death—,” Emily Dickinson portrays death by describing an eternal marriage.
On the literal level, the speaker remembers a time where she was carried off and eloped with a man called Death and his partner in crime, Immortality. Not realizing that going with Death meant that she would have to leave this world and live with him in his house forever, she shows herself as being immature at that time. As she leaves to go with Death the speaker states, “We slowly drove—He knew no haste/And I had put away/My labor and my leisure too, /For his Civility–”(5-8). In these lines, she shows how she must leave her household to work for her new husband. On the way to Death’s house they “passed the school, where Children strove/At Recess—in the Ring—“(9-10). The fact that she mentions the kids fighting and playing at recess also shows how she must leave her life of leisure for a life of work. She must go work for her husband Death at his household.
The next quatrain is when the speaker finally realizes that she is leaving this world to join Death in his world. She states, “We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—/We passed the Setting Sun—/Or rather—He passed Us—“(11-13). The next lines also show how she is leaving her world into another, colder environment. The speaker says “The Dews drew quivering and chill—/For only Gossamer, my Gown—/My Tippet—only Tulle—“(14-16). The gown and scarf that she had worn for the trip were too thin to protect her from the cold place that they were reaching. Finally, they reached Death’s house. It was “A Swelling of the Ground–” and “ The roof was barely visible—“(18-19). The turning point of the poem was a flashback, when she says, “ Since then—‘tis Centuries—and yet/Feels shorter than the Day/I first surmised the Horses’ Heads/Were toward Eternity—“(21-24). This flashback lets the reader know that she is looking back on that day almost as if she is sad. Centuries have passed, yet that day seems longer than any time that has passed.
This poem clearly functions as an allegory. On a symbolic level, it was easy to grasp that this poem was a recollection of the speaker’s death. Dickinson describes this death so well it is almost as if she is writing about her own death. The main clue that this was a poem of death was that she got in a carriage with two guys whose names just happened to be Death and Immortality. Death symbolizes the passing away of the body, and Immortality represents the Christian belief that the body dies but the soul is immortal.
When the speaker states, “Because I could not stop for Death—/He kindly stopped for me—,” she implies that most people do not stop to think about their death (1-2). People go on with their busy lives and do not talk or think about death because they are afraid of it. So Death must stop and “kindly” ask people into his carriage. After she went into his carriage, Dickinson goes on to portray what the speaker sees as she is dying. Contrary to the speaker’s busy and fast life, line five shows the carriage is slow and knows no haste. This is because as she is dying she thinks of all the things that she is leaving behind. She is relieved of all her duties at work, but she is also relieved of the activities she enjoys to do in her leisure time with her friends. In a sense, it is good that she is leaving all her responsibilities and work behind, but it is sad that she has to leave all her friends and good times behind also.
The line “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—,” goes into all of the sights that go through her head before she dies (9-13). When she sees the children fighting during recess it is almost as if she sees all of her responsibilities and things that bothered her in life as childish. There are so many stupid worries in life that people should not take them to the grave. She is realizing this and forgets of her worries. The next sight is the “Fields of Gazing Grains”. This is where she realized that she was leaving the world. “The Gazing Grains” are like people looking at her and saying goodbye. Her last sight is when she sees the carriage pass the sun. This represents her passing away or her life on earth passing to another stage.
Finally, when she says “We paused before a House that seemed/A swelling of the Ground—/The Roof was scarcely visible—/The Cornice—in the Ground,” she reached her death and could see her grave on the ground (17-20). This is the point where the poem goes back to the present tense, which according to the speaker is centuries away from that day. Not only is it Centuries away but those centuries feel shorter than that day of her death. Dying according to Dickinson is a slow process.
Dickinson uses several techniques to make the reader read this poem as slow as Death’s carriage travels. The first technique I noticed was the dashes that separated every line. These dashes are there for a reason. They are there to make the reader pause and read the poem slow. The next technique is that the rhyme scheme follows an ABCB pattern. By that I mean that the second and last lines of every quatrain rhyme. This makes the poem flow well but not as fast as a poem with an ABAB rhyme scheme. Another technique I noticed was that Dickinson capitalizes the first letter of some important words in the lines to make the reader emphasize them as he or she reads. For example in the line “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 reader must emphasize the words that are capitalized to get the effect of a slower poem (9-12).
This poem was a good example of what marrying Death would feel like. Since no one has really died and came back to tell us how it feels, Dickinson does a good job of showing death from the perspective of a dead person or immortal soul.