Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because, I Couldn’t Stop For Death” tells the story of a woman looking back at her life before embarking on a carriage trip with death. Dickinson explores an imagined journey through the afterlife using symbolism, personification, and metaphor. It shows that death is not something that should be fear.
Death is personified as a friendly driver in a carriage. This helps change the perception. The speaker describes death in the first two lines of his poem, saying “Because it was impossible for me to stop for Death-// He kindly stopped and took my place–” (1-2). The poet begins the poem by immediately describing death in kind. This goes against the traditional notion of death. Because the use of “kindly” implies that death may not be as terrible or cruel as people believe, it is quite surprising. The speaker is now seen as a friendly man who has taken the speaker on a carriage-ride, not as someone to fear. You can see that Dickinson capitalized the term “death” as if it were the name of someone. This little detail enhances the personification and life-like quality of death. This quote shows us that death is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Although death seems uninvited and unanticipated, it is welcome. She accepts her fate and climbs on to the carriage. Then she realizes it is time to go. The speaker says that death is made humane when he tells us that he drove slowly — He didn’t hurry
I put it away.
My leisure and labor are my own.
His Civility—- (5 – 8)
Civility is another characteristic that Death mentions in the quote. Death shows kindness and respect to the speaker. He took the time to make sure she was taken care of. She gave up everything she had, including her work and hobbies, to be with him on this ride. This ride is all about him. It is obvious when the author switches to he from we in the first line. Halfway through, she realizes that she is only there for the ride and that he has the power. The time seems to pass slowly so the speaker can reminisce about her life before moving on. Death is not a final event in this poem. It is a person who takes us on to eternity.
The poem uses symbolism throughout to give it a deeper meaning. They both need each other to exist. The carriage is a significant symbol. She first mentions it when she states, “The carriage held but only Ourselves / and Immortality” (3-3). The most important symbol of the poem is the carriage ride. It represents the speaker moving on to death and leaving behind life. She is represented by Death and Immortality in the carriage. This character represents an unending spiritual journey. They travel through the landscape of her life and see each phase. The speaker’s home or grave is the final stop of the carriage ride. It signifies that she is now ready for the next phase of her life. She also demonstrates these symbols of harmony between death and life by saying this:
We got through the School, where children excelled
Recess — in The Ring
We were able to pass the Fields of Gazing Grain
The Setting Sun was passed –. (9 – 12)
The speaker is reflecting on her life and the significance of Dickinson’s description. A group of children is seen playing at recess in a circle, which the speaker believes represents childhood. The speaker could be recalling childhood memories. The symbol for the circle of life is the ring or circle they are in. The next step is to pass through fields of crops that represent adulthood, growth and maturity. Once they are mature, the crops are sold and grown again. Again, this symbol represents the cycle of life and how death and life are interconnected. The carriage then passes by a setting Sun, which represents the end. The sun sets, and the carriage turns into night. The speaker then ends her journey and goes to the grave. Like the two previous symbols, this symbol also represents the cycle of life, as the sun sets, rises, and it all happens again.
This poem’s personification and symbolism reveals that death is an inevitable part of life. The personification of death attempts to change people’s outdated perceptions about death. The poem employs symbolism to explore the harmony of life and death, and the dependence they have on each other. Dickinson wanted people to understand that life is precious and should be enjoyed. Once death arrives, we must leave everything behind.