13 January 2017
“Because I could not stop for Death,” But to Ponder
Emily Dickinson’s Poem Because I could not stop for Death seems exactly the opposite. She does stop to ponder and, unfortunately, stays confused about the topic as the rest of us. There are several ways to interpret Emily’s poem of death, but with all pieces of poetry, it is up to the reader to conclude or in some cases, answer the lingering questions.
Death is the main topic for Emily’s poem. Death is considered a “polite suitor” who “knew no haste,” but further into the poem we read “Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet Feels shorter than the Day,” which suggests that time was passing by much faster (Melani) (Dickinson, 91). The reader also gets this suggestion from the word “passed” being used many times, but also from the stanzas “We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground – The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground” (Dickinson, 91). This stanza suggests the passing of time and how the subject sees the house in full view, but looking back, Death and the passenger have passed the house and it is sinking into the past, almost invisible now (Melani). Though Death seemed to be a patient gentleman calling upon her, we soon read that there is something more eerie to be wary of. Death is quickly thought to be deceitful and the illusion of “no haste” was just that, an illusion. The passenger was sidetracked by the outside world and the passing of time. Time became nothing and vanished, just as life can pass by and vanish (Melani). We may question whether Death in this situation is being deceitful or if this is the natural order of the passing of time (Melani). The passenger seems to be more focused on the outside world, more than their own until it is too late. We see the passenger coming to realize their fate and how unprepared they are for the journey. In the stanza “The Dews drew quivering and Chill – For Only Gossamer, my Gown – My Tippet – only Tulle” the passenger has noticed a chill, realizing that something is off. The passenger also realizes how unprepared they are, which represents the clothing. Our passenger had not expected their destination to be so close (Melani) (Dickinson, 91).
In the introduction and conclusion, we see our passenger has really foreshadowed what is to come and discovered new aspect of death. “The Carriage held but just Ourselves – and Immortality” suggests that death is present. Death is not subject to itself and someone already dead cannot be subject to death again (Dickinson, 91). It is clear from this stanza that the passenger expected death, just not as soon. In our conclusion, the stanza states, “I first surmised the Horses’ Heads Were toward Eternity” meaning that death is forever. Death is immortal and immortality is granted to the dead because they are not subjected to death again and death is forever. Death itself is forever and the action of being dead has the finality of being forever (Dickinson, 91). If the passenger knew that immortality was present, the passenger sensed Death because it is the only being with “immortality.” The passenger also concludes that death is the destination and death is considered forever, hence the word “eternity.”
Whether Death is considered good or bad is up to the reader. Is it Death or ourselves who is the deceiver? Are we under the delusion that there is immortality outside of death? No matter the conclusion, it is up to the reader to surmise themselves.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop of Death.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Edited by Nina Bayn and Robert S. Levine, Shorter 8th Edition. Vol. 2, W.W. Norton and Company, 2013, p. 91.
Department of English: Lilia Melani. “Emily Dickinson—Death.” Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College English Department, 25 February 2017, http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/stop.html