This poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” was written by Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886), who is often referred to as Emily Dickinson. She was an American poet. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, United States. Emily Dickinson was regarded as the most important 19th-century American poet. Her poems are divided into 3 periods. They are:
(i) Pre 1861 – During this period she used the theme of “ Nature”.
(ii) 1861 – 1865 – During this period she used the theme of “Life and Mortality”.
( iii) Post-1866 – During this period she brought changes in “ structure and syntax”.
Her themes include death; grief; fame and success, etc. Her poems were not popularised when they were published in 1915. Death was her favorite subject and she made “ death” to be the central theme of more than 500 poems. Some poems dealt with the ‘death wishes’ whereas, the rest of the poems dealt with the ‘act of dying’.
ABOUT THE POEM:
This poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” comes under the kind of lyrical poem. The central theme of this poem is “Death”. This poem has 6 stanzas, with each stanza having 4 lines. So, in simple, the poem is in six quatrains. (Quatrains- a stanza having 4 lines). The poem was posthumously published in 1890 in ‘series 1’, which is a collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems, which were arranged, assembled and edited by two of her friends, Mabel Loomis Todd, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. They gave this poem a title “The Chariot”. The characters who were in this poem are, speaker (who is about to experience her death journey); death-whom the speaker has personified as the “Gentleman Caller”, and whom the speaker has planned to marry; Immortality– a co-passenger of the speaker in the carriage; and children-it represents the boys and girls who were playing in the schoolyard, it represents that the speaker’s childhood and leisure time is over.
The title significance of this poem, “ Because I Could Not for Death”, is one cannot stop death; if the time comes one has to leave this world. The first line of the poem became the title of the poem.
SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS OF THE POEM:
The poet initiates the poem by saying, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”…
Here, the poet says, one cannot stop death, if the time comes one has to leave this world. (‘He’ – represents death ). The speaker has personified death as “Gentleman Caller”. The poet says, since she cannot hold over death, death has kindly stopped for her. The death is waiting for the speaker, in a gentle manner. The carriage is meant for one person( dead person). The death has come to the speaker, to take her ride in her carriage. To ensure the speaker’s safety, the death has come with a companion( i.e. Immortality/Immortal life ). The poet says that three persons are involved in the funeral: and they are (i) Death (ii) Dead person( the speaker) (iii) Immortality.
The poet says that death is coming very slow. Death, being so busy, is kind enough to wait for the speaker. So, to respect his civility, gentleness, and politeness, the speaker has put away all her work and happiness and went with death.
The carriage is now passing the school. There, the children are playing happily in the leisure time. On seeing that, the speaker feels that her leisure time is over.
Then, the carriage passed the fields. They saw the setting sun. She is not sure, whether she crosses the sun or the sun has crossed her. ( The poet referred ‘the sun ‘ as “he”). In the third and fourth stanza, it could be noted that the “School” symbolizes ‘the beginning of the life; “ the grain” symbolizes ‘ the midway life and the working years’; and “the setting sun” symbolizes ‘ the end of life and the death’.
Here, the dew represents early night time. Dew occurs not only in the morning time but also at night time. Night, here, represents “sleep”. Sleep, in turn, represents ‘death’. Death is so chill. The speaker was unable to bear the chillness and she says that her soft scarf failed to give her warmth.
At last, the funeral has reached the graveyard, which the poet refers as “ house”. The speaker could find many swellings upon the ground, it’s because of the presence of many tombs. The poet says life before death is not at all a life. She believes, only after the death, the real life begins (i.e. the eternal life of the soul).
The poet says even half a day seems to be the century for the dead person. The poet guesses that the chariot only rode her and she feels that the chariot gave her the eternal life.