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Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death"

1055 words - 4 pages

From beyond the grave, the narrator of Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could not Stop for Death," also once published under the title "The Chariot", describes the peaceful process of her death which is personified as a gentleman who escorts her in his carriage. In this striking poem, Dickinson employs various poetic devices to reveal the narrator's calm acceptance of death. In fact, it seems to be presented as no more frightening than being taken on a date with a suitor. All other literary techniques, of which there are many, elaborate on this theme and further the tone of "civility" that brings the poem to its climatic moment when it really becomes clear to the speaker that her death is reality and even how the centuries that have passed since its occurrence have seemed like no time at all (8).The first line indicates the theme by using the word "death". In a critical analysis of the poem by Allen Tate, he says that "every image is precise and moreover not merely beautiful, but fused with the central idea" which in the poem is death (Tate, 84). Engle's main point on "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" is that Dickinson uses the poem to refute death in its entirety. She begins by citing the opening line of the poem. Engle interprets this line to mean that Death, as an end point, ceases to be: "It is simply not her nature to stop for Death. She realizes that she cannot recognize Death's power over her. Once she reckons with that eternal or divine bent within her, Death stops; that is, Death ceases to be what Death is- and end," (Engle 74). This brings in the other character in the poem that also takes the carriage ride with, almost posing as a silent chaperone. This character is Immortality. If these two men are separate entities, what is Emily Dickinson asserting about the end of human life? This seems slightly unclear.In the next three stanzas there are the images of her life passing before her eyes which has been said to happen right before a person dies. During the ride, she passes many ordinary sights used as symbolism for the journey of life. The beginning of the life cycle is the "School where Children strove" and the "Fields of Gazing Grain" as these are youthful beings with futuristic suggestions. She says "We passed the Setting Sun" as an illusion to the digression of her life but then corrects herself, this time personifying the sun, "Or rather- He passed Us." Time has at this point become distorted and in no way relative to time as she knew it in life. Then warm imagery of the poem shifts as "The Dews drew quivering and chill." She describes her clothing, a silk gown and thin shawl, which brings to mind the image of wedding attire as if she is dressed to wed her Death, The image of her flimsy dress gives her a new quality of vulnerability. The two concluding stanzas, with their lessening concreteness, hasten the final identification of her "House." It is the slightly rounded surface "of the Ground," with a scarcely visible roof and a...

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