Poetry Explication of Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
Poetry Analysis of “Because I could not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson
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Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous poets in the United States history. Although she lived in a time of struggle, she had a comfortable and secluded live in Amherst, Connecticut. She is sometimes depicted as a genius who chose to live a solitary life, writing, and being generally concealed. However, her seclusion has a significant role in his poetry, since to her, the everyday events had little to no interest, and in her poetry we see no sight of them. Her world was her house and the surrounding countryside. The war and the political unrest hold no interest to her. That is why her poetry is so precious because it shows an untarnished set of recollections about the life of women in the 19th century.
In this essay, we shall do a thorough analysis of the style; meter; symbols and setting of the poem. We shall separate those elements to be able to do a detailed analysis that is cohesive and comprehensible. To understand the poem, and offer a fuller picture of it, elements such as the ones we have mentioned, should be analyzed. By analyzing items such as the symbols, we would gain a deeper understanding of Dickinson’s thoughts, and by examining the setting, we could be situated in the poem’s place and time.
Poem’s Formal Analysis
In “Because I could not stop for Death” the setting revolves around the subject of death. The speaker and death are both riding a carriage. Death picks the speaker up, and they drive. They passed through a town that might or not be the speaker’s town. The setting shows a school and fields of grain. All of them, elements of a 19th-century town. The poem is never explicit about situations such as if the speaker is dead or alive. However, we can interpret that the speaker is dead because in this line “We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – / We passed the Setting Sun – “ (Dickinson). The figure of the setting sun can be regarded as a symbol of the end of live, and the beginning of death. Also, the “Swelling of the ground” mentioned in the poem could mean a burial site, as the recently excavated tombs see as bumps in the ground. What we can say for sure is that the person greeted death as a friend and was not scared by his presence. On the contrary, death seemed to be a quite courteous entity and offered the speaker a pass through his life before eventually taking it to the afterlife.
Concerning the poem’s style, the fact that death rides in the carriage shows us a clue about the stylistic conventions of the poem. It is important to note that Dickinson lived in the Victorian era, an era of courteous manners. Death can be regarded as a chaperone for the speaker, and it can also be seen as a seducer who brings people to their final destiny regardless of their wishes. Emily Dickinson had a keen ability to describe abstract concepts with concrete imagery. In this poem, we see how she recalls the issue of death, offering an almost chivalric image of it, an image that is not meant to scare us, but to seduce us. The setting sun is a stylistic device used by her in many of her poems, and can be regarded as the beginning of something, instead of the end of life. In the same way, this poem resembles Gothic romance novels, a genre that was written broadly in the 19th century New England.
This poem is not a perfectly rhyming one, it has slant rhymes that are not meant to rhyme perfectly, but to offer a rhythm that can be followed when reading the poem. For instance, we can see how she tries to rhyme
“me” with “immortality” in the first stanza. Also, concerning the poem’s meter, it is written using the iambic meter, which is the most used meter in English, as it offers the most comfortable rhythm patter. The best part of the poem is that although being in iambs, it does not sound forced. Instead, it sounds like a natural pattern of speech. Concerning the iambic nature of the poem, it is written using tetrameters. In the poem, there are four poetic feet per line. A foot is composed by one stressed and one unstressed syllable. So, when we see this line, we can see the tetrameter. “ We passed the fields of gazing Grain” (Dickinson). Also, we can see the use of anaphoras during the poems length, as Dickinson repeats the words “passed”, as to show a progress in the narrative of the text. In the same way, the dashes are used to force pauses in the reading, conveying the meaning of different parts of the text, and aiding the slant rhymes of the text.
Given the plethora of symbols in Dickinson’s poem, we shall address only three: Death; the sunset, and he carriage.
Death: Death is introduced in the text as soon as it starts. It can even be seen as the leading character in the poem. One of the main characteristics of death is that it is humanized by the poet. It is not regarded as a figure to be afraid of, rather, it is seen as a person whose duty is to take souls to the afterlife. As a seducing man that shows us that death is not the end, but another beginning. In the first line “Because I could not stop for Death – / He kindly stopped for me -” (Dickinson) we can see death and the speaker as if they were on a lovers’ thryst, meeting to spend a last evening together.
The Sunset: Sunset is a foreshadowing of death, that showed that as they passed the speaker’s former life they were leaving life, and entering in the realm of death. In this case, sunset can be regarded as the door that separates life from death.
The Carriage: The carriage is a device the speaker rides to make its final passage to the afterlife. It can be a wink to Charon’s boat, placed on a contemporary setting. “The Carriage held but just Ourselves – / And Immortality.” (Dickinson). The meaning of immortality here is not clear, but we can see that immortality is in the carriage, as it leads to the afterlife, a place where death does not exist anymore.
Because I could not Stop for Death. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/because-i-could-not-stop-death-479
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