“Death Be Not Proud” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” Compare and Contrast Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jul 21st, 2020

One of the strongest and captivating issues about poetry is the ability to describe the same themes in many different and unpredictable ways. Constant discussions about death, its perception by people, and the possibility to avoid death seem to be the most frequent literary issues for consideration. “Death Be Not Proud” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” analysis and evaluation will be provided in this paper.

The Main Themes in the Poems

Emily Dickinson and John Donne made two convincing attempts to examine the role of death in the world and the variety of attitudes to this issue. “Death Be Not Proud” by Donne and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Dickinson are the two poems with different approaches to one problem. However, it is wrong to call death a problem. This is why it is better to say that these two works help to comprehend the essence of death that is impossible to neglect and wrong to be afraid of.

Donne and Dickinson’s works are characterized by the use of different stylistic devices (personification and metaphor), the contrast in tones of the story (sarcasm and obedience), different literary techniques, and different writing styles. These numerous differences make these poems so powerful and so immortal for the readers as well as help them learn and comprehend the essence of death in the most appropriate ways.

In order to define the differences and similarities between the poems under discussion, it is crucially essential to clear up the main themes of the works and authors’ intentions. Though the authors use the same idea to start their poems, the chosen approaches to defining the central point remain different. Dickinson’s poem begins with the phrase “because I could not stop for death” (Dickinson line 1), which is also the title of the poem.

Donne opens the poem in the same way, using the title of the poem as the first line and introduction of “Death Be Not Proud” theme(Donne line 1). Dickenson defines death as a visit to the narrator, according to which death takes her towards her eternal grave. In his turn, Donne tries to criticize death from numerous perspectives calling it a slave who does not have any control over the narrator.

At the same time, it is clear from the poems’ summaries that both authors portray death contrary to the popular beliefs presenting it as harsh, cruel, powerful, or supreme. They are not afraid of showing their attitudes towards the end, but, at this, they do not insist that their beliefs are the only correct ones.

All they try to do is to introduce their personal ways of how it is possible to treat death and be ready to accept it when the time comes. Though their central theme is death, it does not mean that they introduce similar ideas and approaches, and this is what attracts the readers’ attention and makes people believe that death has its own weak and strong sides.

“Death Be Not Proud” and “Because I Could Not Stop”: Literary Devices

One of the main differences which have to be mentioned is the use of different figures of speech and stylistic devices such as paraphrases, personification and metaphors that help to introduce death to the reader. To prove that death is something that people should not be afraid of, Donne tries to personify it from the very beginning. The use of such Old English personal pronouns as thee and thou demonstrate the author’s intentions to represent death as something clear and evident.

With the help of personification, the author creates the irony of mortality, and it is not that difficult to believe that death is not as scary as it seems. Even if “our best men with thee do go/ Rest of their ones, and soul’s delivery” (Donne lines 7-8), there is no reason to be afraid of this personalized issue. As for Dickinson’s poem, the decision to use another type of metaphor is made.

The image of a journey in “the carriage held but just ourselves” (Dickinson line 3) is used to describe her life and movement towards the end of life. Children who play in the yard symbolize her youthful days. The field of gazing grain becomes a symbol of the mature age, and the setting sun becomes a symbol of her old age. As soon as the narrator moves towards her eternal home, she becomes more mature and exhausted to resist death, and the things around her become animate.

Just like Donne, this author tries to give an explanation that death is not as invisible and intangible as many people tend to believe. However, it is wrong to personify it because it is not about a life that is given to every person but, on the contrary, it is the end of this life, the eternal sleep that has to be accepted.

“Death Be Not Proud” and “Because I Could Not Stop”: Attitude & Tone

One more peculiarity of these two poems is the attitude and the tones which are used by the authors: for instance, Donne cannot believe that death may have enough power to make orders and influence people’s lives while Dickinson cannot find enough strengths to resist this power and reject the journey offered to the narrator.

As is clear from “Death Be Not Proud” analysis, Donne’s poem is full of sarcasm. This author uses strong diction and mocks at death that tries to become a powerful person to be proud of. His poem brings death to the level of nothingness. In the conclusion it is seen that death is a thing that has no power, no control over itself and other people’s desires, and no rights for existence. Such words as “poor” and “slave” are used to laugh at death. Toward the end of the poem, he sarcastically states, “why swell’st thou then?” (Donne line 12).

This question and the tone emphasize how weak and miserable death can be and how easy it is to mock at her. “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (Donne line 14). These words reflect Donne’s strong, sarcastic tone one more time and create an idea that people cannot die, but it is death that has to die because human souls continue living in the eternal world.

Dickenson’s poem has a tone that is more submissive. The narrator depicts her submission before death and travels with it towards her eternal destination. Her sense of submission is evident from the fact that she gives life to inanimate objects and makes herself lifeless.

Other words, such as “he knew no haste” (Dickinson line 5) and “he kindly stopped for me” (Dickinson line 2), prove the fact that the narrator accepts her status of a slave to death. During the whole poem, it is possible to observe that the tone chosen by the narrator starts changing.

The narrator feels that everything around her is going to change and betray her. She is not informed about what should happen to her in the nearest future. She is lost, and no one can show the right way. This journey is over for her, and nothing can be changed, and no other journeys can be taken. It is the end that she did not expect, and it is hard to believe that somebody or something can treat her this way.

Portray of Death

Among the variety of literary techniques that influence the writing style of the author, it is possible to define the use of conceit and monologues in the poems. Conceit is farfetched personifications according to which two unlike objects are compared and made look similar.

Donne seems to be a master of conceit; his poem draws a strong and influential comparison between death and a person who considers himself to be proud. “Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so” (Donne line 2) – this phrase is used to indicate death’s notions about itself.

Dickinson also uses the same conceit and portrays death as a man; however, the use of such words as “kindly,” “civility,” “no haste” cannot create any positive impression about death and its functions in the poem. This metaphor is more profound and more serious as it gives life: “we passed the fields of gazing grain/ we passed the setting sun” (Dickinson lines 11-12).

What is more, death may be perceived more like a suitor who has come to marry the narrator and take her away. However, it is not the only image of death that can be observed in the poem. There is another silent person in the carriage that is called “Immortality.” It is not the example of personification as it is in Donne’s poem; however, it is one more idea to think about and realize what death is.

Due to such specific and powerful literary techniques, it is not very difficult to analyze the style of writing and the messages which are presented by different authors. Donne, as the author who does not have either respect or fear of death, tries to use as many offensive words as possible to show how miserable can death be. His style of writing seems to be a bit difficult due to the use of some Old English words; however, in general, every message is clear and comprehensible.

As for Dickinson’s writing style, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” analysis and critical appreciation show that there are no difficulties in comprehending each of her words and thought. She is lost, scared, and confused about what happens to her. Still, she is able to say clearly what may bother her and why. Her writing style and the chosen sequence of ideas attract many readers; this is why it is always interesting to re-read this poem and try to find out another detail and enjoy this story and this journey once again.


The comparative essay on “Death, Be not Proud” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” showed different approaches of the authors to one theme.Without any doubt, Donne and Dickinson’s poems are the two masterpieces in English literature, as the theme of death has fascinated writers for centuries. Their treatment of the subject is a reflection of the individuality of both poets. The poems under consideration present a deep insight into the views of the two poets.

The use of different literary techniques, tones, and styles of writing may serve as a compelling reason for the fact that these poems have maintained their individuality. Dickinson and Donne are the great authors who provide their readers with a chance to evaluate the role of death in our world and decide how exactly it should be met by those who it comes for.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” The Literature Network. 2010. Web.

Donne, John. “Death, Be Not Proud.” Poetry.org. 2010.

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