Life Journey As Described In Because I Could Not Stop For Death

June 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Life after death is a topic that humans know the least about, as a result this leaves us with a sense of uncertainty. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem in iambic meter called “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” to tell a story about a character’s journey through life, which helps explain the concept of the cycle of life. In the first line, the poem opens with the title’s name “Because I could not stop for Death,” this portrays that the speaker did not want to stop for death. However, the speaker seems to personify the concept of death as a gentleman in the following line “He kindly stopped for me” since death had the intention to stop for them. The final two lines of the stanza refer to a “carriage”(3) the gentleman took this person for a ride on, and inside with the two characters is “immortality”(4). Dickinson’s use of diction depicts the sense of death as a kind man, which suggests the emotion of comfort because she got inside his “carriage”. On the other hand, her use of the word “held” contrarily implies that the speaker did not want to stop because it hints that she was not there voluntarily. The “carriage” is a major symbol of the journey from life to death because it is used to tell the story chronologically as if it were an actual carriage ride through life. The author’s choice of words is not giving a clear message, which intensifies the feeling of the unknown because the word “immortality” could have different meanings depending on the reader such as the hope of afterlife or the fear that there will be nothing after death.

Throughout the second stanza, it continues on with the story by describing their journey into more detail. “We slowly drove-He knew no haste”(5) gives the sense that death is not in a rush because there was no reason to rush since death is a natural part of life. A prominent poetic device used many times by the author was alliteration. For example, the speaker states “And I had put away/My labor and my leisure too,/For His Civility,” the two words labor and leisure are two components that people have throughout their life, which is work and their free time. The speaker is implying that they had to give up these two factors in their life for death since he was “civil.” The third stanza begins to go into detail about their surroundings informing the reader that they had passed a school which is where the children “strove”(9). This choice of diction and its placement provides us with the sense of the children trying or giving effort. This relates to the past line in the previous stanza because once the character “put away”(6) their work and free time, it seems as if they set aside their effort to live as well. Throughout the third stanza, there are more examples of alliteration: “recess” and “ring”(10), “gazing” and “grain”(11), and lastly “setting”(12) and “sun.”(12) These details are placed in alliteration pairs to help emphasize the journey and give it a deeper meaning. It shows the different stages throughout life for instance, the children at recess is the childhood stage, while the harvested grain field they pass is the adulthood stage, and the setting sun is to imply the elderly stage. The use of imagery of the “gazing grain” also refers to the cycle of life since the grain gets harvested, to only be grown again in the following year. These details can be found in lines 9-12, and the importance of these lines is the fact it shows a shift in the meter since it switches from tetrameter to trimeter as well.

As the story continues, it seems to be getting vaguer the closer you get to the end rather than becoming more informing. The speaker claims “He passed us,” referring to the sun, which seems to not be possible. Considering the fact that this cannot happen it gives the poem a sense that leaves the reader to interpret the statement whichever way they want to. Dickinson uses the poetic device anaphora with the word “passed”(13) since it is stated three different times it reminds the reader that they are on a journey. In the fourth stanza it is acknowledged that the speaker is a woman because the details “gown”(15) and “tippet”(16) prove that she is wearing a gown and scarf. The fifth stanza contains more indistinct symbols as well such as the “house”(17) that was in the ground refers to her own grave. This symbolizes the final stage of life for the character which is death. In lines 18 and 20, the word “ground” is rhymed with itself which is unusual to the reader since the poem has had a rhyme scheme of ABCB the entire poem. The fact that now the scheme loses its pattern it creates emphasis on the image of the ground, which makes us take notice of the detail as the final resting place.

The final stanza seems to conclude the poem because the journey began in the past tense but now the speaker begins telling it through present tense. The speaker states that ever since then the “centuries”(21) passed, except it actually felt as if it was “shorter than the day”(22) meaning that she has no sense of time. Due to the fact that people do not actually know what life after death is like, Dickinson deepens the sense of unknown eternity by making it seem as if the narrator cannot keep track of time. This leaves the interpretation up to the readers, which adds onto the tone of mystery because they can either take it as a positive thing such as a place after death with no sense of time or in a negative sense that she is gone for good into a void of nothing. The “horses heads”(23) symbolize the front of the carriage, and the image that they “Were toward eternity”(24) shows the reader that they were going toward the stage of life after death.

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem to tell a story to prove that death is both unavoidable and unknown. The story was told as if the speaker was beyond the grave except she narrated it as if it were a journey in chronological order. It started from the beginning when the “carriage” took her until it dropped her off at her final destination which was her grave to show the last stage of her life. Dickinson utilizes the format of slant rhyme to write the story, which creates the tone of mysteriousness. Since the rhyme scheme is hidden it makes the story become elusive which relates to the topic of death being so uncertain. Dickinson also added many details which were ambiguous such as “dead for centuries”(21), and since she is not direct with her diction it leaves the reader to interpret it whichever way. This was done on purpose by the author because Dickinson is trying to describe the cycle of life to help answer the question that most people cannot which is what happens after death. The author doing this creates an unclear answer as to what happens however, it does inform the reader about the relationship between life and death. Even though Dickinson does not answer the question she does portray that life cannot happen without death, which gives us the sense of reassurance that death is just another part of the cycle of life and should not be feared.

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