Because I Could Not Stop For Death
Emily Dickinson's Because I Could Not Stop For Death is one of the most frequently explored poems in research papers for American Literature courses. Have Paper Masters help you explore the themes, symbols and metaphors within the poem in a custom written research paper.
The Chariot (Because I Could Not Stop for Death) by Emily Dickinson is a peaceful yet powerful account of what the afterlife may hold. For Dickinson, it is very characteristic that death is seen as natural as life and that it should be a long, peaceful journey. However, there is a certain haunting quality in this poem. The idea of wandering in eternity with no place to go is a horrifyingly understated idea.
The expectation of finding in her work some quick, perverse, illuminating comment upon eternal truths certainly keeps a reader's interest from flagging, but passionate intensity and fine irony do not fully explain Emily Dickinson's significance. The willingness to look with clear directness at the spectacle of life and death is observable everywhere in her work. Passionate fortitude was hers, and that is the greatest contribution her poetry makes to the reading world. It is not expressed precisely in single poems, but rather is present in all, as key and interpretation of her meditative scrutiny. Without elaborate philosophy, yet with irresistible ways of expression, Emily Dickinson's poems have true lyric appeal, because they make abstractions, such as, hope, loneliness, death, and immortality, seem near and intimate and faithful. She looked at existence with a vision so exalted and secure that the reader is long dominated by that very excess of spiritual conviction. A poet in the deeper mystic qualities of feeling rather than in the external merit of precise rhymes and flawless art.
Themes to Explore in a Research Paper on Dickinson's Because I Could Not Stop for Death
In a sense, Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" is an attempt to bridge the gap between the experience of life and death, and to understand this transition as a natural and organic one. The imagery and symbolism that Dickinson distributes through the poem offer the reader an understanding, in both a physical and spiritual sense, of the poet being transported from life into eternity, and in this experience Dickinson seems to offer the understanding of this transition as one that is completely natural and serene. This understanding is enhanced and expanded by the variety of symbols, images and poetic devices that Dickinson employs within the poem. These symbols serve both to reveal the deeper meaning and context of the poem, as well as enhancing the understanding of the erosion of the natural world in exchange for the eternal one during the course of the poem. This paper will explore these elements of the poem, attempting to show how they help inform the thematic intent of the poem.
One of the major devices that Dickinson employs appears in the first stanza of the poem. Dickinson chooses to use personification to characterize Death, which lends a sense of serenity and calmness to the poem. This notion is emphasized in the second line, when the poet notes that, "he kindly stopped for me". This suggests that Death carries out the duty of transporting the living into eternity, but further, it also suggests something of the nature of Death in the way he is portrayed. The notion of Death as "kind", which this line suggests, brings a sense of acceptance and even looking forward to the process of transitioning from life into death, and this serene image is never contradicted in the rest of the poem. In this way, Dickinson is asserting the natural process of death, and by making Death in the poem an actual character, this alleviates both some of the mystery and apprehension of the reader in accepting this as the next phase of existence after life.
The notion of the naturalness of this transition, and the willingness of the poet to accept this change, is clear by the diction and imagery of the second stanza as well. It becomes clear through the word choice in this stanza that the poet is conveying the sense of contentment with this journey, a notion shared both by the "character" Death and the narrator. Not only does Death know "no haste", but the poet herself "put away my labor and leisure too", which emphasizes the thematic understanding of Death as natural and intrinsic to human existence. Further, Dickinson asserts that she is willing to accept all of this, and to eschew her own concerns, "for his Civility", which offers the suggestion that Death is not only accepted but welcome.
Life and Death Metaphors in Because I Could Not Stop For Death
The third stanza becomes an extended metaphor for the phases of life itself, which becomes a symbol of leaving the world of the living for Eternity.
- Dickinson offers the reader a clear understanding of the connection between the images in the stanza, and their symbolic meaning, with the repetition of the word "passed", which connotes both the journey which is the narrative plot of the poem and also the notion of dying, which is often referred to as "passing away".
- Dickinson, and Death, travel in this stanza by the "School", which is a symbol for youth, through the "Fields of Grazing Grain", which represents maturity.
- The field have reached maturity, and the by "Setting Sun", which is a well-known archetype of old age.
While the poem shifts quickly through these stages, Dickinson offers no comment on them, only a general acceptance of moving beyond them, which in itself reinforces the thematic understanding of Death as simply a stage in the process of existence.
This theme becomes further reinforced by the images presented in the final three stanzas. When the Carriage finally stops, it is before a "House that seemed a Swelling of the Ground", which combines images of Death and life; the house represents a dwelling for a living being, in this case the poet, who has entered the next stage of her existence, while the fact that it is swelling from the ground becomes suggestive of death, because it resembles the description of a tomb. Finally, the final stanza's diction also reinforces the notion of life and death as mere stages through its syntax, which reveals that the rest of the poem has occurred in a distant past, as revealed by the statement "Since then – ‘tis Centuries" that opens the stanza. By creating such a distance between the poet's Death and her life in Eternity, the poem allows the reader to have the understanding of Death as part of a transformation into a new phase of existence that the poem's theme enforces, and it also brings further relief to the anxiety of death that the poem attempts to resolve by showing the beauty of Eternity.
Thus, the imagery and diction of the poem are all designed to reinforce the stylized understanding of death that Dickinson tries to create. In attempting to reinterpret death as an event rather than an end to human existence, Dickinson supports both Christian and Classical ideology, and in turn she enhances the reader's understanding and appreciation of the poem. However, it is the accuracy of Dickinson's word choice and design of metaphor that not only enhance her ideas but give them a beauty that exists beyond even her own authorial intent.