The Transition From Life To Death In “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” By Emily Dickinson

1024 words - 4 pages

“Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson is a story about the transition from life to death. It begins with death stopping to accompany her on her journey to the afterlife. Throughout this poem the reader follows the speaker through different stages of life, through death, and into the other side where she looks back upon her journey. Each of the stages have purpose, and a well defined meaning.
The first reference to death is made in the first line in which she refers to death in the physical form. “Because I could not stop for death” (Dickinson 1:1) implies that death is chasing her or at very minimum following the carriage. The implication is that the speaker is in too much of a hurry to make time for death. The interesting observation is that she does not paint the picture of death as others have. She portrays death as being non-threatening, for he (death) accompanies her in her carriage. She than continues to describe a third person in the carriage, immortality.
Another interesting observation is her use of three. Three people in the carriage, her, death, and immortality, also signify the three stages of life, and the three types of immortality. Immortality has three definitions, the first being immortal, or, without death. (Marcellino 102) This first definition refers to the afterlife, or the next stage in a life passing. The second definition is fame, or to live on through an action. The third definition is to have an eternal resting here on this plane. Her physical body will remain here in a grave and not pass into the afterlife.
To understand why Ms. Dickinson may have used such gentle terms for death, one must first understand her background. She was a Puritan Calvinist (Polanski 39), and therefore believed that death was just a simple passing from one life to the next. To the speaker, death is a journey, taken at a leisurely pace. She portrays this through her word use in line five, “We slowly drove / He knew no haste” (Dickinson 2:5), as if there was no rush to move on to the next life. Puritans also believed that “physical life is only a part of the ‘eternal life sphere’ and death as the passing from the part to the whole” (Polanski 39). This belief explains the use of the carriage as a means of transport.
As the poem continues, the speaker puts away her labors and leisure’s, as if to either to be kind to death, or because death has distracted her. Though she follows through with the next line to read “For his Civility” (Dickinson 2:6-8), which suggests that death is wooing her. There appears to be a shift at this point in the story. Prior to this point, there was no reference to motion, yet from here forward there are numerous references to movement. The first mention to movement is the words “we passed” (Dickinson 3:9) as they begin the journey through life. It seems...

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