"Because I couldn’t stop for death" – A discussion of Emily Dickinson’s poem
Because I couldn’t stop for Death –
He kindly stopped by for me.
The carriage held, but only ourselves.
We drove slowly, I didn’t know the rush
And I had saved
My work and my free time too
For your courtesy –
We passed the school, where the children struggled
At recess – in the ring –
We passed through the Fields of Grano de Mirada –
We passed the setting sun –
Or rather – it happened to us –
The Rocíos shuddered and grew cold.
For just Gossamer, my dress –
My Tippet – Tulle only –
We stopped in front of a house that looked like
A swelling of the ground –
The ceiling was barely visible.
The ledge – on the ground –
Since then, it’s centuries, and yet
It feels shorter than the day
I first assumed that the heads of the horses
They were into eternity –
Emily Dickinson was an innovative and talented American poet who wrote nearly 1800 poems during her brief life from 1830 to 1886. Dickinson became publicly known as a poet only after her death because she chose to publish only a very small number of her poems, somewhere. between seven and twelve, during his lifetime.
The life of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, into a well-known family. His grandfather helped found Amherst College and his father, an attorney, served for several years in the Massachusetts legislature and the United States Congress. Dickinson had a one-year-old older brother and a three-year-old younger sister.
As a child and adolescent, Dickinson acquired many friends, some of whom lasted a lifetime, received her father’s approval and attention, and behaved as a child during the Victorian era. He received a classical education from the Amherst Academy and was asked by his father to read the Bible. Although he attended church regularly for only a few years, his Christian foundation remained strong throughout his life.
Dickinson attended nearby Mount Holyoke College for just one year, due to numerous reasons, and was later brought home by her brother, Austin. The Dickinson family lived in a house overlooking the city cemetery, where she is buried, for a few years before moving into the house their grandfather had built, called “The Homestead.”
At her home in Amherst, Dickinson became a skilled housekeeper, cook, and gardener. She attended local events, befriended some of her parents’ acquaintances, and read various books given to her by her friends and her brother. Most of the books had to be smuggled into the house for fear that their father would disapprove of them.
Emily Dickinson enjoyed the writings of an impressive list of contemporaries such as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. She also read from the Victorians, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot and the romantic poet Lord Byron. He also loved “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens. When he discovered Shakespeare, he asked, “Why is another book needed?” In his home he hung portraits of Eliot, Browning and Carlyle.
Dickinson became lonelier in the 1850s. He began writing poems and received a favorable response from his friends. For the rest of her life she adopted the friendly practice of giving poems to her friends and bouquets of flowers from her garden. Her garden was so varied and cared for that she was known more as a gardener than as a poet.
During the Civil War years of the early 1860s, Emily Dickinson wrote more than 800 poems, the most prolific writing period of her life. During this period, Dickinson saw the death of several friends, a teacher, and the deterioration of the health of his mother, whom he had to take care of closely. These unhappy events saddened Dickinson and led her to address the subject of death in many of her poems.
After the Civil War and for the remaining 20 years of his life, Dickinson rarely left the property lines of The Homestead. Her father, mother, and sister Lavinia lived with her at home, and her brother lived next door at The Evergreens with his wife, Susan, a longtime friend of Emily’s, and their children. She enjoyed the company of her family and wrote often to her friends, but Amherst residents only knew her as the “woman in white” when they saw her receive infrequent visitors.
After the death of several friends, a nephew and his parents, Dickinson wrote fewer and fewer poems and stopped organizing them, as he had done for many years. She wrote that “the deaths have been too deep for me.” Dickinson developed kidney disease that he suffered for the remaining two years of his life. The last short letter he wrote to his cousins said, “Little cousins, called back. Emily.”
Characteristics of Dickinson’s poetry
Emily Dickinson’s sister, Lavinia, collected Emily’s poems and published them in 1890. The editors changed some of her words, punctuation, and capitalization to conform to a certain standard. Subsequent editions restored Dickinson’s unique style and arranged them in rough chronological order.
Emily Dickinson’s poems have many identifiable characteristics. His poems have been memorized, enjoyed, and discussed since their first publication. Many critics consider her extraordinarily talented in her abilities to create concise, meaningful and memorable poems.
The main themes of his poetry include Friends, Nature, Love and Death. Not surprisingly, he also refers to flowers often in his poems. Many of the allusions in his poems come from his education in the Bible, classical mythology, and Shakespeare.
Dickinson did not give a title to his poems, an unusual feature. Others have given titles to some of their poems and often the first line of the poem is used as the title.
He wrote short lines, preferring to be concise in his images and references. A study of his letters to friends and mentors shows that his prose style consisted of short iambic phrases, making his prose very similar to his poetry.
Dickinson’s poems are generally short in length, rarely consisting of more than six stanzas, as in “Because I Couldn’t Stop By Death.” Many of his poems have only one or two stanzas. The stanzas are quatrains of four lines. Some poems have stanzas of three or two lines.
The rhythm in many of his poems is called common meter or ballad meter. Both types of metrics consist of a quatrain with the first and third lines having four iambic feet and the second and fourth lines having three iambic feet. The iambic foot is a two-syllable unit with the first syllable unaccented and the second syllable stressed.
In his quatrains, the rhyme scheme is usually abcb, where only the second and fourth lines rhyme. Such a rhyme scheme is typical of a ballad measure.
Many other poems are written in a meter typical of English hymns. This rhythm pattern is characterized by quatrains where lines one, two, and four are written in iambic trimeter and the third line is written in iambic tetrameter.
Often their rhymes are almost rhymes or skewed rhymes. A close rhyme means that the two rhyming words do not exactly rhyme. They just make a close match.
In Dickinson’s poems, capitalization and punctuation are unorthodox. I regularly capitalized nouns, but it was sometimes inconsistent and some nouns were not capitalized. For punctuation, he often used a hyphen instead of a comma or period, and sometimes he used a hyphen to separate sentences within a line. Some editions of his poems have attempted to correct the punctuation of his poems.
A dozen or more composers have scored Dickinson’s poems, including Aaron Copland, who produced “Twelve Songs About Emily Dickinson’s Poems” in 1951. One of the interesting ways to treat some of Dickinson’s most famous poems, which often they are learned in school, it is sing them to the tune of “Amazing Grace” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas, or more hilariously, the theme of” Gilligan’s Island. “
Because I couldn’t stop for death
“Because I couldn’t stop for death” is a brilliant poem, well constructed, easy to understand and full of many poetic conventions. The first stanza is often quoted alone and represents one of the most inspired quatrains in American poetry.
In the first stanza, Dickinson has created a wonderful metaphor that runs throughout the poem. She has personified death, giving it a name, a means of transportation and a companion. The presence of immortality in the carriage softens the idea of the arrival of death. And the fact that he kindly stopped is both a guarantee that his arrival was not unpleasant and an expression of the poet’s wit. It is ironic, in a comical way, to imagine Death being kind. The speaker of the poem is talking about an event that happened in the past, another guarantee that there is survival after death. Dickinson’s Christian vision of eternity and the immortality of life are evident in these stanzas.
The second stanza deals with death that comes slowly, as a result of an illness, to which Dickinson actually succumbed at the end of his life. Once again, there is an ironic reference to Death, this time to his courtesy, which rhymes with “immortality” from the first stanza and unites the two stanzas. Notice that there are a couple of examples of alliteration, one in the first line with “did not know” and one in the third line with “work” and “leisure”.
The third stanza gives an image of the trip. Children and school in the first line refer to early life. The mature grain fields in the third line refer to the middle stage of life. Finally, the setting sun in the fourth line refers to the final stage of life. Observe the use of anaphora to effectively link all stages of life. The repetition of the phrase “we pass” at the beginning of the lines is known as anaphora. There is also a nice example of alliteration in the second line, “hollow” and “ring”.
The fourth stanza contains two more examples of effective alliteration and creates the image of a person not dressed appropriately for a funeral. In fact, the chiffon dress looks more like a wedding dress, representing a new beginning rather than an end. Note also the close rhyme in this stanza, as well as in several other stanzas. Curiously, this stanza was not included in the first editions of Dickinson’s poems; however, it appears in all the latest editions.
The tomb or grave is described in the fifth stanza as a house. The description indicates that the poet is comfortable with the place. The last stanza indicates that centuries have passed, although ironically it seems shorter than the day. The “horse heads” are a comfortable alliteration, linking the vision to the first stanza. The last word, “eternity,” which rhymes with “immortality” in the first stanza, also brings together all the stanzas and closes the poem calmly.