Because I Could Not Stop For Death | Emily Dickinson Poem

Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Because I Could Not Stop For Death

About the poet | Emily Dickison

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson(10,1830 – May15, 1886) is considered one of America’s most distinguished poetesses. She is popular for her unusual life of self-imposed social seclusion. She lived a life of great simplicity and seclusion.
 
She wrote poetry of great power; posing questions on the nature of immortality and death. Her unique lifestyle had created widespread interest among her biographers. Emily Dickinson is remembered for her unique poetry.
 
She used concise phrases. She also expressed far-reaching ideas along with paradox and uncertainty her poetry has an incredible power to move and provoke. 
 
From the age of 30, Emily Dickinson lived almost alone at Amherst, Massachusetts in America. She mostly wrote lyrics, expressive of deep personal thoughts and emotions. Her rich poetry discovers the world of emotion and the beauty of simple things.
 

Summary | Main Idea of the Poem

Emily Dickinson is an American poetess. In this poem, she describes her personal experience of life. Her experience of life is limited. She does not explain the social and contemporary problems in her poems. She generally deals with the problems of worldly life, faith, and death.
 
In this poem, Emily Dickinson talks about the briefness of human life., death, and eternity. She believes in an immortal life. She believes that death is a very kind, civil, and gentle companion of human beings.
 
Since human beings are not willing to surrender themselves to death that approaches every living creature himself. Death drives the soul of any creature in his carriage slowly towards eternity. Life is a cycle that is from cradle to grave.
 
Human life passes through various phases that comprise childhood, maturity, and old age. Soon death arrives and takes him to his final destination, a house that seemed a swelling of the ground. 
 
The deceased wrapped up in a simple shroud and laid to rest in the grave where he lives permanently. According to the poetess, death is not the end of life but the beginning of immortal life. The image of a leisurely drive reflects the passing nature of this life in its various stages.
 
In contrast to this quickly passing cycle of life from birth to death, there is an endless and changeless existence of life where all time ceases and centuries become shorter than the day. The image of a ride in the carriage has a dual significance.
 
It is a journey from life to death, from physical to the spiritual, and from time to timelessness. The poetess has used three major symbols. Firstly, she symbolizes school life when a carriage passes by the school at recess time.
 
Secondly, she symbolizes the youth when the carriage passes by the harvest fields. Thirdly, she symbolizes old age when she explains that the carriage passes by the setting sun. It is the end of life. Through these symbols, she explains all the stages of human life. 
 
The poem is an expression of the inner attitudes of the poetess to life and death. These attitudes represent fear, hope, and hopelessness in the main. She may be so religious as to desire to die to be sooner with God in the next world, to be bodily dead and spiritually alive.
 
Then, the approach of Death to her is the imaginative projection of her desire and readiness to accompany him. Surely, there are people like martyrs who are always prepared to die, to be part of the eternal world, in preference to our temporary material world.
 
One way of gaining the spiritual experience is the spiritual transformation that the poet experiences in this poem. Death, then, is no more than a means to help her in this transformation from the bodily condition into the spiritual state.
 
As the poet is picked up by Death into a carriage, she finds  Immortality as her next companion. So Death arranges this companionship for her. Naturally, she is thankful to Death for this kind of arrangement. 
 
She also appreciates Death’s slow drive which helps her to enjoy the companionship of Immortality the more. He knew no haste. Here Death and Immortality are presented as persons that is,  they are personified so that poet might be in contact with them and feel their touch and company.
 
The poem is progress in movements. The first movement is on the physical plane that we all experience as we grow old from childhood to old age like the one described by Shakespeare in All the world’s a stage.
 
The second movement is on the imaginative or spiritual plane we experience as we begin moving closer to God and the other world through prayers, fasting, and different religious experiences or exercises.
 
We find the third movement limited only to the poetess’ own imagination or thinking. No doubt, she is going to the other world physically and spiritually in the first two ways, she entering into another life.  
 
Emily Dickinson says at the end of the poem that she does not feel the passage of time in her grave after leaving this world. When centuries pass, she identifies that only one day has passed for her. Thus, the carriage with its horses has taken her to the eternal world.
 
If her desire to enter the other world is really this much strength, we can not easily say that she is much afraid of death. But who knows what she truly desires. But the third movement is to quicken the poet’s arrival in the Heavenly City in a very swift and safe way.
 
Most of us do experience the first two movements described in the poem. Some experience the third as well like prophets, saints, sufis(mystics), and the highly imaginative and pure.

Explanation and Reference to Context

Lines 1-4

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.

Reference and Context

These lines are from the poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson. The poet describes her imaginary experience of moving in the company of Death and Immortality in a carriage and then after her death. 
 
In this poem, the poetess talks about death and the gentle nature of its approach. The poetess says that death came to her and stopped for her. It took her in a carriage in which immediately death was seated as the fellow traveler.
 
They drove slowly and passed by a school and fields full of grain. At last, they reached a mound of the grave. It was the door to another life. This was her immortal life. The poetess says that death is certain, we can not avoid it. She presents an imaginary journey with death. 

Explanation

The poet explains that she did not herself prepare to die or to meet Death because of her activities in this world. Here Death is presented as a person or is personified. But who can avoid death? Death itself came to the poet one day in a carriage.
 
With Death, it was Immortality or everlasting life sitting in the carriage. Here Immortality is also personified. Death takes human beings to the immortal or everlasting world. His soul goes to the other world.
 
Death is described in terms of human characteristics. Whether Death takes the form of a decrepit and worn-out old man, a serious reaper, or a ferryman, his visit is almost never received warmly by the poor mortal being who finds him at the door.
 
Such is not like Because I Could Not Stop For Death. This poem is about the poetess’s date with death. Death surprises the poetess with its visit. The personification of immortality presents the scene as an ageless-looking little woman in a grey dress. So in the carriage, the three are traveling.

Lines 5-8

We slowly drove- He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labour and my leisure too,
For His civility

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-4

Explanation

The vehicle carrying death, immortality, and the poet drove slowly through the world. Death did not like to move fast or was not in hurry to take the poetess into the other world. He was well-behaved and kind.
 
So the poet forgot all her hard work, activities, and enjoyments in the world. She felt so much attracted to death that she felt like going with him without thinking about any of her worldly activities. It means that the approach to death is mostly natural. 
 
People who are not too much interested in the world, like the poetess, do not object to leaving this world. The words used by the poetess are simple and easy that we use all the time. They produce a slow sound as we read them and which corresponds with the slow movement of death.

Lines 9-12 

We passed the school, where Children strove
At Recess- in the Ring
We passed the field of Gazing grain 
We passed the Setting Sun
 

Reference to Context

Same as for lines 1-4

Explanation

The poet describes her ride in the carriage with Death and Immortality as her companions. The movement was from this life or the world to the otherwordly life. Firstly, the poetess with her companions passed the school where children were playing in the ring or circular area for boxing, wrestling, or other struggles.
 
The school described here stands for(or symbolizes) the childhood or early life of human beings. Then the poet and her companions passed by the field with the wheat or developed grain. The poet felt as if the grain was looking constantly at them. 
 
This feeling she had as we all are looked at or observed by the people around by whom we pass in a carriage or vehicle. This shows how much personally in contact the poet felt with the surrounding nature and plants.
 
The field of ripening grain here stands for the full mature age of a person. Lastly, the poet and her companions in the carriage passed by the setting sun. The sight of the sun with the coming darkness stands for old age or the last part of one’s life.

Lines 13-16

Or rather- He passed Us
The Dews drew quivering and chill-
For only Gossamer, my Gown-
My Tippet- only Tulle-

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-4

Explanation

The poetess describes her experience of observing the setting sun as she rode with Death and Immortality towards the other world. She felt as if the sun was in an active movement and it passed by her and then set in the west.
 
With the coming of darkness, dewdrops started falling and it became cold. The poetess started trembling. Her gown and covering over her shoulders were made of very thin cloth. So she felt the cold badly.
 
In this situation, she needed the support of faith and good deeds to protect her from the cold. But perhaps she was not strong in her faith and her record of life was not so satisfactory in her own opinion.

Lines 17-20

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground-
The roof was scarcely visible-
The Cornice-in the Ground-

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-4

 

Explanation

The poet describes her arrival at her grave in the company of Death and Immortality while riding the carriage. The grave of the poet looked like a house but was in fact only swollen (risen) ground. As it was a grave, the roof could not be seen.
 
Only the raised part of the cornice of the grave could be seen. Here the poet imagines or thinks about her grave that that would be her final resting place. Like the other parts of the poem, it is her own idea of the grave that she would be having that is expressed here.
 
The movement of the travelers riding the carriage is quite dramatic. They stopped for a while near the grave of the poet and observed it. The description of the grave is quite close to life(is realistic) in ordinary words of everyday speech.

Lines 21-24

Since then-is Centuries-and yet
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the Horse’s heads
Were towards Eternity-
 

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-4

Explanation

The poetess imagins that she is lying in her grave in satisfaction and at peace. Her experience in the grave is of the everlasting life of the other world. Here she does not feel the passage of time at all. Centuries here are shorter than the day.
 
It is only in our world that we go on remembering the dates and days of the week for our work and activities. It is not so at all in the other world. The poetess’ guess was correct that the horses of the carriage were taking her and her companions, Death, and Immortality to the other world.
 
Now in this eternal world, she has no worry or concern about the passage of time. The diction of the poem is simple, direct, and philosophical as usual. The experience of the grave or the other world is described directly and effectively.
 

Important Questions and their Answers

Question 1

In the poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death, the poetess talks about the nature of its approach. Elaborate the statement.
 
Who does the poetess welcome death in the poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death?
 
How does Emily Dickinson view death in the poem
 
In the poem Because I could Not Stop For Death, Emily Dickinson successfully tries to overcome the fear of death. Elaborate.

Answer

In this poem, Emily Dickinson talks about the temporary life of this world and the immortal nature of death. She believes in immortal life after death. She believes that death is a very kind, civil, and gentle companion of human beings.
 
Human beings are not willing to surrender themselves to death, only death approaches every living creature himself. Death takes the soul of any creature in his carriage slowly towards eternity.
 
The image of the leisurely drive reflects the changing nature of life in its various stages. Human life is rightly called a journey. As death waits upon us a faithful and patient friend, it is a journey from life to death, from the physical to the spiritual, from time to timelessness.
 
The poetess has expressed the nature of death in two ways. Firstly, death is a coachman that comes to see the poetess who is busy in her routine works. Secondly, death is a lover or suitor that comes to court her.
 
Even the poetess herself does not feel any fear of death. She is impressed by the civilized arrival of death. death does not hurt the poetess. Poetess feels comfortable and at peace in the company of death. She feels that death is not the end of life but the start of immortal life.

Question 2

Describe the journey from life to death as presented in the poem, Because I Could Not Stop For Death.
 
Explain the image of the journey in the poem.
 
Describe Emily Dickinson’s journey in the company of Death. 

Answer

This is a wonderful and thought-provoking poem. The poetess tells us about her funeral journey from this world to the immortal world. She was so busy with the routine works that she had completely forgotten the death. She had no time to wait for death.
 
Death himself came to her. She was seated in a carriage. The carriage in which the dead body was taken to the grave had three occupants; the dead body of the poetess, death, and the soul of the departed poetess.
 
The coach was passing very slowly. It was not in any haste. Death was very gentle and courteous to the poetess. She was not afraid of death. She felt comfortable in the carriage. First of all, they passed by a school where children were playing during the recess period.
 
It was the symbol of youth. Then, they passed by a field. Later, they came to a place where the sun was setting in. This was the symbol of old age. The poetess was dressed in thin clothes. Her body shivered due to cold. The journey came to an end. The carriage reached a place which was a mound of earth. 
 
It was the grave where her dead body was to be buried. She was lying buried in the grave since then. Her journey had not yet finished. She had entered into the region of eternity. It was a journey from life to death, from the physical to spiritual, and from time to timelessness.
 

Question 3

 
Discuss the moral message of the poem
 
Do you think this poem is a criticism?
 

Answer

The poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death is a criticism of those people who have forgotten the approach of death. They remain busy in their worldly affairs. They do not perform good activities. They only remember the merriments of worldly life.
 
They believe that they will never die. They will lead immortal life. Life is a cycle that is from cradle to grave. Human life passes through different phases of life. These are childhood, maturity, and old age. 
 
Soon death arrives and takes him to his final destination, a house that seemed a swelling of the ground. The deceased is wrapped up in a simple shroud and laid to rest in the grave where he lives permanently.
 
According to the poetess, death is not the end of life but the beginning of immortal life. Basically, the poetess has given us the real concept of death. She believes that worldly life is temporary life. We should prepare ourselves for death.
 
We must not think about the pleasure of this world. We must live like a traveler. we are here for a temporary time. In short, this is a realistic poem with an excellent moral message. It gives knowledge to those people who are wise and conscious about their life in this world.
 

Question 4

Discuss the poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death as a symbolic poem
 
The poetess has used different symbols in the poem
 
What is meant by The Carriage, The House, and The Setting Sun?
 

Answer

In literature, symbolism means the use of something, a person, or some idea which represents some other idea. Symbolismincreases the meaning of a literary work and gives depth to it. The symbols and personifications used in this poem have deep significance and meaning.
 
Life on earth has been compared to a journey to show its transitoriness and fleeting nature. Death has been compared to a kind and obliging comrade whose arrival makes us ignore all the important activities of life and accept his courteous offer.
 
The alluring personality of Death symbolizes the deep peace it provides to our fatigued souls. The school and the recreational activities of children stand for the period of innocence and enjoyment in life when a man is free from the responsibilities of life and needs education.
 
The fields of ripened grain symbolize the period of mental maturity when a man gets the fruits of his labor. The setting of the sun stands for the end of earthly life which plunges the man into the darkness and severe cold in the grave.
 
The shroud on the dead body is a symbol of our worldly preparations for the life hereafter which usually proves to be insufficient. The time which is fleeting in this world becomes static in life after death so that the passage of centuries gives the illusion of a day.
 
The poem is an expression of a spiritual experience and the poetess’s deep religious faith. The sustained image of a journey in the company of Death beautifully explains the spiritual journey of man from this temporary existence to an eternal existence in the hereafter. 

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