In the allegorical poem entitled, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Emily Dickinson describes death as a kind gentleman taking her on a journey to her death in a carriage ride. The denotation contributes to the poem’s meaning because, in real life, death is not described positively. Dickinson uses a calm tone to convey that death should not be feared because it is not the end of life. Dickinson conveys the calm tone implicitly through many literary techniques in each of the five stanzas.
It is essential to understand how the calm tone is created in each stanza to express the poem’s message. In the first stanza, the speaker says, “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped it for me.” The word “he” implies that death is being personified as a gentleman. The poet’s personification of death as a person exemplifies how she is oddly comfortable with the situation. Next, Dickinson uses diction and describes death as “kin[d].” “Kin[d],” connotes to be affectionate, which conveys that the speaker views death as pleasant and loving. Dickinson then uses imagery when she says the speaker and death are riding in a “carriage”.
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A “carriage” depicts an image of a vehicle that is luxurious and elegant, preferably for princesses and the wealthy, thus portraying the process to her death as a comfortable and serene one. Furthermore, Dickinson expresses that along with death as a passenger in the carriage ride, “Immortality” is also seated in the carriage. Immortality denotes to be an eternal life, which lightens up the situation of death because it implies that there is an afterlife. This reassures that people should not fear death and remain calm because it is not the end. The first stanza exemplifies the calm tone because Dickinson expresses the situation of dying and death itself positively.
Dickinson’s detailed description of death being positive parallels the poem’s message; death should not be feared because it is not the end of life. With the interpretation that death should not be feared, one can interpret how other devices in the poem cooperatively create this effect. In the second stanza, the whole carriage ride seems to be relaxing. Using words such as “slow” and “no haste,” something in no hurry, implies that both the passenger and death are relaxing in the carriage. The unhurried and slow carriage ride contributes to the calm tone. Moreover, the speaker says that she is willing to leave behind her life of “labor” and “leisure,” just for death “civility.”
Dickinson uses imagery and portrays “labor” and “leisure” as the two components that make up life where labor is the work, and leisure is the time apart from work. Dickinson then uses diction and expresses death as “civil,” something polite. Through imagery and diction, Dickinson conveys how she is willing and comfortable enough to give up her life because death is put into a positive light by describing it to have “civility.” In the second stanza, the whole journey seems to be pleasantly contributing to the calm tone. The second stanza also puts death in a positive light, reaffirming that death should not be feared.
In the third stanza, the calm tone proceeds to help enhance the meaning of the poem. The speaker is reminiscing about her life. When the speaker says, “We passed the school where children played,” Dickinson uses imagery to depict her life as a child when she used to play. The image also has a positive connotation of children enjoying their time. Moreover, when the speaker says, “We passed the fields of grazing grain,” Dickinson again uses imagery to depict her adulthood. “Grazing Grain” depicts an image of grain being ready to be harvested, showing that they are becoming adults. By using the word “grazing,” which connotes to be looking at something with pleasure, it expresses that she is looking at her life in a positive light.
Additionally, when the speaker says, “the setting sun,” it connotes to be too close and final stage to any period, which in this case is her life. In the whole stanza, instead of mourning over how she is losing the life she had, she “gaze[s]” at it. The whole stanza depicts a slow carriage ride going through each stage of her life, thus contributing to the calm tone. In the third stanza, we can see through the diction that even as the sun is “setting,” the journey is still pleasant, thus contributing to the calm tone. The speaker is still not putting death in a negative light conveying the message that death should not be feared.
In the fourth stanza, Dickinson uses imagery to depict a grave. When the speaker says,” the roof was scarcely visible,” something that cannot be seen, it illustrates the top of a tombstone. Moreover, because it is part of the “ground,” one can infer that the location is underground. Dickinson then uses a metaphor and describes this grave as a “house.” A house has positive connotations of being warm, comfortable, and safe. This shows that the speaker should not fear death because death will not harm her or make her feel lonely. Thus, in this stanza, though her life journey is about to end, the idea of death is still put into a positive light by describing her grave as a “house.” The positivity contributes to the calm tone and highlights the message that death should not be feared.
In the final stanza, it is evident that the speaker is dead because she says, “since then,” it has been “centuries,” which refers to when she was alive in the actual world. Moreover, the speaker says, “Each feels shorter than the day.” Through this phrase, it is clear that the speaker is alive because she still “feel[s]”. Also, it is clear that Dickinson seems to be pleased with her afterlife because when time goes by quickly, it implies that one is enjoying their time. Dickinson uses diction when the speaker says, “each feels shorter,” which clearly shows that time is going by so quickly that it felt as if the day was shorter. Furthermore, when the speaker says, “[the] horses heads were toward eternity,” Dickinson clearly depicts an image of horses willing to go towards eternity.
If she feared death and feared the afterlife, her horse would not face “towar[d]s,” but away from it. Additionally, the last word “eternity,” which connotes to be a timeless state into which the soul passes at a person’s death, clearly shows that she had no reason to fear death, because it was “kind,” enough to let her continue her life in the spiritual world. This stanza exemplifies how death should not be feared because we live for “eternity”. Even after her death, she still views death in a positive light, contributing to the tone, and complementing the meaning of Dickinson’s poem. Through the use of literary techniques in all five stanzas, Dickinson expresses a journey to death and conveys that death should not be feared through a calm tone.
Through diction and tone, one can clearly see Dickinson’s views on death. By the literary techniques in each stanza, one can clearly see that death is being put in a positive light. Dickinson evidently expresses that death should not be feared but should be welcomed because death is not the end. We have to come across death at some point in life showing that it is not escapable. It is better to accept the fact and not fear this inevitable event in our life. It may become upon us unexpectedly as it did in this poem, but it should never be feared for because we live for “eternity.”