Dickinson’s Poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death Thantos, Charon, Death. No matter what we call it, the idea that is death is always with us. It causes great pain, but also inspires. Dickinson’s poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death is, obviously enough, about death. But rather than being sad about it, she wants the reader to view death as being an inevitable change, rather than an end to existence. By personifying death, she makes it seem relaxing and serene. She also adds to this effect by using vivid imagery and metaphors, as well as rhythm, to create a poem that plays out in the reader’s mind like a movie, due also in part to the dramatic imagery.
One of the major parts of this poem is the personification of death, a common theme in her poetry. By making death human, it makes death understandable. In one of her other poems, I Read My Sentence – Steadily-, she says She and Death, Acquainted-/ meet Tranquilly as Friends. Her treatment of death as a friend makes it seem as if people are silly for fearing death, but rather should accept, even embrace it as the natural course all lives must take. She makes it clear that it is inescapable, and that we should not try.
When she says, Because I could not stop for Death, it causes the reader to ask why she could not stop. The obvious answer is that she could not stop because she was so wrapped up in her own life, so busy, that she did not think about death. She shares the carriage with Death and Immortality, two opposites, Death being the cessation of life, and Immortality being perpetual life. This poses something of a conundrum, unless the reader realizes that Death is there for the corporeal self, and Immortality is there for her soul or spirit, which, according to many belief systems is eternal. She describes Death as being peaceful and civil, relaxed and unhurried. This is established by his Civility and He knew no haste. This fits with the popular conception of death. She makes a significant omission in that she does not describe Death physically.
This permits the reader to use his or her imagination to form a physical depiction of Death. In the third stanza, she describes the things they pass, all of which could be interpreted as the three phases of life, or the three Grecian fates. The school, where children strove/ At recess in the Ring represents the early part of life, childhood, or Clothos, the fate who wove the threads of life. The next phase and Fate combination is adulthood, represented by Laecheis, who measured the threads of life. The line, The Fields of Gazing Grain, symbolizes this. Grain also symbolizes fertility, and since adulthood is when people have children, this highlights the image.
But there is the promise, or perhaps threat, of things to come when the reader thinks of the popular image of Death, holding a scythe, which was used to reap the grain, as it also reaps the lives of those Death goes to claim. The setting sun is the end of life, old age, or Atropos, who cut the threads of life. This phrase also serves as a transition to a much darker fourth stanza. Dickinson’s rhythm also changes from a regular beat to a shorter, darker feeling rhythm, which changes back after this stanza. This combined with imagery such as Quivering, Chill, and Gossamer, with a tippet made of tulle causes the reader to feel the cold stillness of the tomb. The word Gossamer is a good choice, because the thin, almost translucent material is suggestive of ghosts, flowing, transparent and cold. This image could also mean that she feels the loss of those in her life who were dear to her, and the memories of those who have passed before her.
The next stanza is an enigma. The house image could be many things, ranging from the tombs the Romans built along their roads, to her deep-seated fear of her world forgetting her. As Steven Butler, a well known author once said, To die completely, a person must not only forget, but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead. The final stanza serves as closure to the poem. In it, the speaker realizes that there is no escape from the carriage, just as there is no escape from death. Time ceases to have any meaning.
Like the carriage ride, death is forever, and once done, cannot be reversed since The horses’ heads were towards Eternity. There was also a horse in Grecian mythos associated with death named Mortis, who carried Death to his various cases. The Greeks, too, tried vainly to understand Death, but they had no more success than our society when attempting to answer the ever-present question of Why. In this search for answers and understanding, we are forever at a loss. The only way we can possibly understand death, and what, if anything comes after that, is by dying.
So we seek solace in other things, be it religion or science, or just not thinking about it. Yet everyone knows at some level that when that final door opens, all else will cease to matter and Ave atque vale, a Latin phrase meaning Hail and farewell. And ashes to ashes, dust-to-dust, and above all else, rest in peace. This is the message in Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Dickinson at some level was trying to understand death, but in the end, only she knew if she did. Poetry Essays.