Emily Dickinson: "Because I could not stop for Death"

Essay by boobyUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, September 2006

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In "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" Emily Dickinson explores the tension between life and death. The poem highlights the conflict between life's desire for permanence and the irrepressible and untimely nature of death. While Dickinson's poem presents eternity as the soul's ultimate spoils in this struggle, the tone of the poem suggests that in itself the promise of eternity can provide no comfort to the living. The poem's use of personification, together with a marked shift in tone and rhythm, provide an especially chilling presentation of man's powerlessness in the face of death's random schedule.

In the poem, death is portrayed as a gentlemanly suitor, who collects the speaker for a carriage ride, and sets her down in "Eternity" (24). For the enjoyment of Death's Company, the speaker sacrifices her interests and activities. On the ride they pass schoolchildren at play, fields of crops, and then the "Setting Sun," before stopping at a house, which seems like a "swelling of the ground" (12,18).

Since pausing at the house, she notes that despite the passing of "Centuries," she still remembers the day, as if it were today, that she encountered Death.

Dickinson's personifies Death as an inescapable conqueror, hovering above and around us. The personification also effectively conveys the unexpected nature of death and the subjectivity of humans to its timetable. There is no gradual lead up to the poem's main idea; it is made apparent in the first two lines, "Because I could not stop for Death--/He kindly stopped for me"(1,2) The use of capitalization for Death (a device Dickinson uses throughout the poem to add to tone and emphasize words that are strong in meaning) gives further power to the personification. The attribution of physical properties to an intangible concept impresses upon the reader a...