The poets of the nineteenth century wrote on a variety of topics. One
often used topic is that of death. The theme of death has been approached in
many different ways. Emily Dickinson is one of the numerous poets who uses
death as the subject of several of her poems. In her poem "Because I Could Not
Stop for Death," death is portrayed as a gentleman who comes to give the speaker
a ride to eternity. Throughout the poem, Dickinson develops her unusual
interpretation of death and, by doing so, composes a poem full of imagery that
is both unique and thought provoking. Through Dickinson's precise style of
writing, effective use of literary elements, and vivid imagery, she creates a
poem that can be interpreted in many different ways.
The precise form that Dickinson uses throughout "Because" helps convey
her message to the reader. The poem is written in five quatrains. The way in
which each stanza is written in a quatrain gives the poem unity and makes it
easy to read. "I Could Not Stop for Death" gives the reader a feeling of
forward movement through the second and third quatrain. For example, in line 5,
Dickinson begins death's journey with a slow, forward movement, which can be
seen as she writes, "We slowly drove-He knew no haste." The third quatrain
seems to speed up as the trinity of death, immortality, and the speaker pass the
children playing, the fields of grain, and the setting sun one after another.
The poem seems to get faster and faster as life goes through its course. In
lines 17 and 18, however, the poem seems to slow down as Dickinson writes, "We
paused before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground-." The reader is
given a feeling of life slowly ending. Another way in which Dickinson uses the
form of the poem to convey a message to the reader occurs on line four as she
writes, "And Immortality." Eunice Glenn believes that the word "Immortality"
is given a line by itself to show its importance (qtd. in Davis 107). Perhaps
the most notable way in which Dickinson uses form is when she ends the poem with
a dash. Judith Farr believes that the dash seems to indicate that the poem is
never ending, just as eternity is never ending (331). In conclusion,
Dickinson's form helps the reader begin to comprehend the poem.
Figurative language is one of the literary elements that Dickinson uses
to help convey hidden messages to the reader. Alliteration is used several
times throughout the poem. An example of alliteration occurs in lines 9 through
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess-in the Ring-
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-
We passed the Setting Sun-
Alliteration is used four times in the third quatrain alone. Bettina Knapp
states that, "the alliterations...depict a continuity of scenes, thereby
emphasizing the notion of never-endingness." Another type of figurative
language that is used is repetition. The first instance of repetition occurs in
lines 9, 11, and 12 as she writes, "We passed" three times. The speaker in the
poem is passing through everything that she has already lived through, thus
giving the reader a sense of life going by. Another instance of repetition
occurs in the fourth stanza. Dickinson repeats the word "ground" in lines 18
and 20 to help remind the reader that she is describing a grave, not a house.
Figurative language is also used as Dickinson creates two instances of perfect
rhyme. The first time perfect rhyme is used is in lines 2 and 4 with the
rhyming of the words "me" and "immortality." The second, and last, time perfect
rhyme is used is in lines 18 and 20 as she repeats the word "ground." All in
all, Dickinson'suse of figurative language contributes to the meaning of the
Another literary element that Dickinson uses in her poem is tone, which
is used to help create the general mood of the poem. It is interesting to note
that her tone in regards to death contrasts with that of her time period. Farr
states that the people of Dickinson's era looked at death as being "a skeletal
marauder-thief with a scythe and a grimace" (329). Society in the 1800s viewed
death as being morbid and evil. Dickinson, on the other hand, made death into
being pleasant. She portrays death as being a kind gentleman, perhaps even a
suitor, who is taking her out for a ride in a carriage. The imagery in
"Because" assists in the creation of a pleasant tone. Dickinson describes
children playing, which also gives the poem a more affable mood. Another way in
which Dickinson makes death a more agreeable subject for the reader is in the
fifth quatrain as she compares the grave to a house. In line 17, she writes,
"We paused before a House." As she does so, the reader gets the image of a
young lady being dropped off at her home by her suitor. However, as Dickinson
goes on to write in line 18, "A Swelling of the Ground-," the reader is reminded
that it is actually a grave that she is being taken to. Her grave is also
portrayed as a house in lines 19 and 20 as she writes, "The Roof was scarcely
visible- / The Cornice-in the Ground." The cornice can be viewed as being
either the ornamental roofing around the speakers house, or as the molding
around her coffin. By comparing the grave to a house, Dickinson helps to
lighten the tone of the graveyard scene. The only time when Dickinson does give
the reader a true sense of mortality is as the sun passes ...
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