Emily Dickinson is a well-known American poet who writes much about the topic of death. She is known for her reclusiveness and somewhat sad life; some would say that she had sadness enough in her life to truly contemplate death. Her poems are full of figurative language and other masterful literary technique to help the reader fully comprehend her depth. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Emily Dickinson uses personification, extended metaphor and contrast to reinforce her point and theme to the reader. One technique Dickinson uses in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is personification.
In line 2 Dickinson says, “He kindly stopped for me” (2). She is speaking of death, and identifies him as a man. The reader gets a picture of a man coming to woo her. The word kindly also tells the reader about Dickinson’s view of death. It is not something to be feared but is something peaceful. She puts away “her labor and her leisure too for his civility” (7-8). Dickinson speaks of death’s civility and the reader pictures death riding up in a carriage, courteous and formal. She is not afraid. Dickinson climbs into the carriage with him, and together, they take an eternal journey.
Dickinson also uses the concept of an extended metaphor to explain the journey that the narrator takes between life and eternal death. The drive that she takes symbolizes the narrator leaving her life. For example, “As we pass the school, where children strove,” (9) Dickinson exemplifies life. What could be more alive than children playing? The “gazing grain” is also the ultimate sign of life. Both of these images show growth and peacefulness. As they continue to pass scenes, they start to get a little more ominous, like “the dews grew quivering and chill” (14) and the “house that seemed a swelling of the ground” (15-16).
This house is a coffin, so in effect; the narrator is able to review the various stages of life before passing into death for eternity. Dickinson is able to do this with the extended metaphor throughout the poem and her powerful choice of diction is describing the various stages. These strong images Dickinson particularly chose in order for the reader to be able to “see” her journey. Ultimately Dickinson’s entire characterization of death is done in contrast to what the reader already believes about death.
The “civility” part is the line that really throws the reader as that line is in such contrast with what is typically written about death. The whole idea that the carriage arrives to pick her up, and then drives slowly on so that the narrator can see all the various scenes from the carriage itself. The narrator is able to kind of sum up her life in a way with the vivid images provided from the carriage window. And eventually the carriage arrives at its destination—immortality. This entire description of death is in contrast to what is typically written or visualized about death.
In this poem of contrast, Emily Dickinson is able to explore two abstract ideas—mortality and eternity, as she makes her way from one toward the other. Emily Dickinson, a poet known for breaking some rules in American poetry, provides the reader with her famous “Because I Could Not Stop for Death. ” Through her powerful use of diction, imagery, and contrast, she is able to make the reader re-think the entire concept of death and how people die. Dickinson writes very philosophically about a subject that everyone has pondered at one time or another.
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