Emily Dickinson shows a calm acceptance of death in her poem “Because I could not stop for death.” The end seems to be the primary concern in Emily Dickson’s poem. In her poem, she alludes to our unpreparedness and how little we think about and anticipates death. She embodies death in the poem by expressing death as a person.
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The literal elements present in this poem include metaphor, personification, symbolism, paradox, figures of speech, tone, imagery, and rhyme as illustrated below: The central theme in this poetry is death (Spencer, 2007). It reveals the author’s fresh experience with death. It is astonishing as she presents the knowledge as being no more surprising than receiving a call from her fiance©.
The way to the grave starts in stanza one where death comes calling in a carriage in which immorality is a passenger. The carrier continues to move slowly at an unhurried pace indicating that end has arrived in the form of an illness. The description of the grave as her home shows how comfortable she feels about death. Death is not supposed to be feared because it is a natural thing that has to happen in humans life period. The view of death reflects on Emily’s religious beliefs and personality. The author is a spinster, reclusive and introspective as she is seen dwelling on death and loneliness. Despite being a bible reader and a devoted Christian, she is optimistic about her future and appears to understand the end as a close friend. A metaphor is used in the first stanza with regards to the carriage.
The carriage is a metaphor representing life’s journey that ends by death. It also shows a means of going to the underworld, for example, the ancient Greek god Charon transporting dead souls to Hades on the river Styx. Death is viewed as a continuing life, hence, an immortal being. The “House” is another example of a metaphor. It is not a real house but refers to the present after death opinion of a house in the Kingdom of God. It is an idea from the book of John in the new testament which shows Jesus during the last supper telling his disciples that He is preparing a place for them in his father’s house.
Personification is evident in the first stanza. For example lines, one and two states.
Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me.
This is a personification as it portrays death as kind. Death is ineffective of being kind as kindness is a sensation of which humans can express. In these two lines.
The Carriage held, but just Ourselves-
personification is illustrated. Moderating immortality into a carriage is a human point to do, in all of its futility. Symbolism is used in line 12,
We passed the setting sun-.
this line symbolizes death and darkness using the setting sun. This line symbolizes that there are people who have died, and she is to tie. Another symbolism is shown in line 5,
We slowly drive.
This indicates how death is a slow thing, and it doesn’t come immediately. The carriage is a symbol of transportation tool that carries the speaker, who is represented as humanity and her love who is symbolized as death. These two characters are creating the third passenger, who is immortal.
The carriage is a symbol of time as it moves slowly like time. The emblem of children playing games in a ring reminds her to look back at the memories she had when she was young. The children are also a symbol of human life. She also views a field of gazing gain which makes her remember inanimate parts of life.
Finally, she is seen observing the setting sun pass by the carriage, which is a symbol of old age as it shows she is beyond mortal time. Symbolism is used to help the reader have a good understanding of the message being portrayed.
The paradox is evident in the first stanza where she combines death and immortality. This paradox indicates that the poet believes in life after death and immortality. Figurative language used in this poem includes alliteration, repetition, and perfect rhyme. An example of alliteration is used in lines nine through twelve: We passed the School, where children strove-At Recess in the Ring-We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-We passed the Setting Sun. It is used four times in the third quatrain. One advantage of alliteration is that it ensures a continuity of scenes, thus emphasizing the notion of never-ending. Repetition occurs in lines nine, eleven, and twelve as she writes,
We passed three times. Another repetition occurs in the fourth stanza, where the word ground has been repeated in lines eighteen and twenty to help the ready understand that she is talking about a grave and not a house. Dickinson creates two occurrences of perfect rhyme. The first time perfect rhyme is used in lines two and four with the rhyming of the words me and immortality.
The last time perfect rhyme is used in lines eighteen and twenty as she repeats the word ground. This figurative speech contributes greatly to the meaning of the poem.
The tone is used to build the general atmosphere of the poem. During Dickinson’s time, people view death as a skeletal marauder-thief with a flitch and a grimace. Societies in the 1800s saw death as being abnormal and evil. Dickinson has made death into being acceptable. She is displaying death as a gentleman, who is taking her out for a ride. The use of Because helps in the creation of a good tone. She describes children playing, which makes the poem be a more affable mood. In the fifth quatrain, she compares grave to a house thereby making death a more agreeable topic. In line seventeen, she writes,
We paused before a house,” enabling the reader get a good image of a young woman being dropped home by his tutor. In line eighteen she writes, A Swelling of the Ground, reminding the reader that she is being taken to the grave. Lines nineteen and twenty portrays her grave as a house The Roof was scarcely visible-The Cornice-in the Ground.
The cornice is viewed as ornamental roofing around the house of the speaker. Dickinson is comparing the grave to a house thereby helping enlighten the tone of the graveyard. She is giving the reader a true impression of mortality just as the sun passes the speaker. She is portraying a sense of mortality in lines twelve and thirteen as she is stating that, We passed the Setting Sun. Because is enhancing a pleasant tone.
Vivid images have been used to generate a true and clear picture in the reader’s mind. Each picture that she uses builds upon the other picture. The first image is of a carrier that is picking up the speaker. The speaker is broadening the image by illustrating what is around her. Her first illustration is children playing in a ring. She goes ahead to define the field of grains she is riding through. There is also an image of a setting sun. She is describing the speakers light dress in details. She is doing so in line fifteen and sixteen, writing that, Fir only Gossamer, my Gown-, My Tippet-only Tulle. By viewing the image of gossamer, the reader will be able to see the fine cloth that her gown is made of.
The final image permits the speaker’s view to broadening inside of the carriage to the rest of the world. The number of pictures becomes less as the poem ends.
In conclusion, each stanza has four lines. The rhyme scheme is abcd. The first and the third lines of every stanza contain four accented syllables while the second and fourth lines of each stanza have three accented syllables.
Flanagan, W., & Kagen, S. (1952). Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Notes, 9(2), 333. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/890266
Spencer, M. (2007). Dickinson’s Because I could not Stop For Death. The Explicator, 65(2), 95-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/expl.65.2.95-96
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