“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson; Analysis

Some believe the central dogma that “the heart asks pleasure first”. It’s entirely true that, as humans, we all seek some form of static emotion. We seek these feelings because it sparks us into a world of elegant elation and solace. I believe something different, though. I believe that what a human heart seeks first, is an emotion that can ground us to Earth, a feeling that is most familiar to us. Insofar as feeling something tangible, humans have expressed themselves through the mask of music and the shawl of stage performance. I believe that the most potent form of expression, though, is through the form of poetry. One poem that expresses such electric emotion is Because I Could Not Stop For Death by Emily Dikninson.

What makes this particular poem convey it’s emotion so well? Even though it contains many literary techniques such as alliteration and symbolism, one way that it expresses it’s emotion is through sound. Though subtle, the sound of a poem can enable readers to comprehend the entirety of the piece at a higher level. This poem contains six quatrains, or four lined stanzas. The first and third line in each stanza contains eight syllables, or four feet, while the second and fourth lines of each stanza contains six syllables, or three feet. This allows the poem to have a rhythmical construct, and subsequently allows readers to understand the piece in the form of sound. Because these stanzas have alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter repeating throughout the poem, the rhythm that the piece generates is seeming melancholic and indifferent. Because the piece is speaking about death, it can be concluded that Emily Dickinson sees death as something rather unimportant, and accepts it as such.

Another facet that this poem has on it’s surface is rhyme. Rhyme adds to the sense of rhythm and also amplifies the emotions that Emily Dickinson is conveying through this piece. One example of rhyme that is used in this poem is “internal rhyme”. In the third line of the poem, Emily Dickinson personifies death as someone who drives a carriage with the personification of Immortality toward the lingering space of the word “eternity” (which is, in this poem, a place). To add to this conceptualization of Death, she uses internal rhyming; “the carriage held but just ourselves, and Immortality”. A second example of this is contained in the first line of the second quatrain, where she describes Death as easygoing; “We slowly drove, he knew no haste”. A final example of Emily Dickinson’s use of internal rhyme is in the fourth quatrain; “the dews grew, quivering and chill”. With this use of internal rhyming, Emily Dickinson subtly conveys cacophony, which adds to the poetry’s rather morbid and foreboding topic.

Emily Dickinson uses other literary techniques to convey her thoughts to readers, one such technique is personification. Humans relate well to things that they are already familiar with. Because every living person has not personally experienced Death, she brings the concept of death (which is, for all intensive purposes, intangible) “down to our level” by personifying it. Through her conceptualization of Death, we are able to view the process through her eyes. Throughout the entire poem, Death is a tangible entity which is driving a carriage throughout her life. Because Death is calm and not hasty, Emily Dickinson conveys the process of Death as mellow, and rather nonchalant. Death is also described as “a gentleman”, whom, in a sense, is taking up the writer’s hand, to be with each other for eternity. This also adds to the depth of the piece, because of the layering effect that the poem has.

Lastly, in order to describe Death to the deepest level, Emily Dickinson uses metaphor. In each stanza, Emily is being brought toward eternity (which is a physical place in this poem) through sceneries that represent the stages of life. The second stanza represents the writer as an elder, who accepts that she is going to die ( “ And I had put away my labor, and my leisure too, for his civility”). The third quatrain represents the younger stages of life, because Death drives passed a school where children are playing, presumably at recess. The fourth quatrain represents the younger adult stage of life. In this stanza, Emily Dickinson describes herself as marrying Death. The sun in this stanza represents the writer as leaving childhood. In this poem, she also alludes to wearing a wedding dress in the carriage, which is representative of her marriage to death. The fifth quatrain represents the writer’s grave; “we paused before a house that seemed, a swelling of the ground. The roof was scarcely visible, the cornice but a mound”. Finally, in the last quatrain, the writer is recalling information from the present to describe how time flows in eternity with death; “ since then ‘tis centuries, and yet each feels shorter than the day, I first surmised the horses’ heads, were toward eternity”.

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