Essay #1 Thoughts On Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death


English 2027


March 2, 2004


Most readers may assume that Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” would be dark and depressive, much like many poems based on or concerning with death. The reader, if intrigued to read the poem and not only the title, will be sure to find a pleasant surprise contained in Dickinson’s writing as she gives a short and interesting narrative of life after death.


The calm and relaxed tone along with the slightly upbeat rhythm of the poem portrays to the reader the high level of comfort and accepting attitude the deceased storyteller contains while riding with Death and there after. Dickinson creates that same feeling of comfort the storyteller has in the reader as well by introducing Death’s actions with an amiable description of “kindly” (2), and later on referring to his “Civility” (8). The narrator also decides to “put away / My labor and my leisure too” (6-7) in repayment of his modesty. Death has come to this women’s doorstep on this particular day to take her to the after life, yet she is not at the least bit apprehensive or a little worried about where it is exactly she is going or what is to come of her. This is because the narrator is figuratively only giving her labor and leisure to Death in lines six and seven, but literally giving him her life. Life is nothing more than choices of labor and leisure. She simply accepts that her time has come and joins Death on his carriage along with “Immortality” (4). The statement of immortality on this line also displays that the woman knows of her everlasting life of this nature and seems to be easily satisfied. The ease of peacefully forgoing this journey hints that the storyteller may have been expecting to die soon and had taken mental preparations to help her accept that her time had come.


As the woman rides with Death to their or rather her destination, in stanza three she describes details of children at school, a field, and a setting sun. These thoughts are figuratively of her past life. The narrator explains literally that she and Death are riding in the carriage and they “passed the School, where Children strove/ At Recess—in the Ring” (9-10), “passed the Fields of Gazing Grain” (11), and “passed the Setting Sun” (12). She is simply drawing reference to and remembering what she enjoyed at different times and at different stages in her past life. When she was a young child she enjoyed being around children her age and playing at recess, specifically in the ring. The “Fields of Gazing Grain” (11) represents her working life and middle ages as a farmer; which she enjoyed greatly, which ties into earlier in the poem in lines six and seven, ”I had put away / My labor and my leisure too”, because her labor and her leisure are one in the same, when she sets aside her life for Death, the driver of the carriage, she actually is giving him her own actual life. As an older woman later in life on the farm, the daily setting of the sun becomes more and more important to her because she knows that her time is limited and the life she loves is setting on the farm just as the sun does every day. The first line of the forth stanza, “Or rather—He passed Us”, further implies that the images that she was witnessing were indeed her own. With “He” representing time, Dickinson uses the verb “passed” just as before to further drive the correlation and relationship with the previous stanza.


The attitude of the main character at this point slightly changes from overly acceptant of death and the after life to slightly scared and unsure of her surroundings and what is to come of her. The narrator now realizes that it was her life that had flashed before her eyes and is reminded that she is indeed deceased because “The Dews drew quivering and chill—“ (14). The dew has settled on her skin as a result of the coolness of her body. She disagrees and offers