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‘Because I could not stop for death’ is one of Emily Dickinson’s most well-known poems and was composed around 1863. Dickinson, a prominent literary figure, often uses the theme of death in her poems and wrote this poem drawing inspiration from a nearby cemetery. In the poem, a female speaker tells the story of how she was visited by ‘Death’, personified as a ‘kindly’ gentleman, and taken for a ride in his carriage. This ride takes the speaker past symbols of the different stages of life, before coming to a stop at what is most likely her own grave. Much of the poem’s power comes from its denial to provide easy or oversimplified answers to life’s greatest mystery – ‘what happens when people die’ and the poem can be read as the anticipation of a heavenly Christian afterlife.
The major themes of the poem are mortality, death, immortality and the cyclical nature of life and death. Love and spirituality are the minor themes. The poem is divided into six quatrains. The rhyme scheme is ABCB, but the poet did take liberties with this model and doesn’t strictly observe exact rhyme in this poem. The meter is much more consistent. The first and third line is written in iambic tetrameter whereas the second and fourth in iambic trimeter. Emily Dickinson uses irony, personification and metaphor to make the poem more intriguing. The symbols like the carriage, children, fields, house and the sunset can be seen in the poem.
“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is the most celebrated poem of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It was published in his 1952 poetry collection, ‘In Country Sleep, And Other Poems’. This poem is a son’s plea to his dying father. Though the poem was dedicated to Thomas’s father, David John Thomas, it contains a universal message. He suggests that every man needs to make his mark in life and that his father has not done so. The poem encourages the dying – the sick and the elderly – to fight bravely against death. The poem also acknowledges the vibrancy and energy of human life, even though life is fragile and short.
In “Because I Couldn’t Stop for Death”, Dickinson shows us a death that is soft and gentle by personifying it and using capitalization. By doing so, she changes this usually disliked aspect of life into a kind man. He then becomes a companion to Dickinson and accompanies her until they get to a “house that seemed a swelling of the ground”. The reader then understands that this is her grave. The use of this metaphor suggests that this Death is not an enemy, but a kind place to rest and a friend who can offer comfort.
Dylan Thomas on the other hand, does not use personification but a metaphor as a way to approach death in “Do not Go Gentle into That Good Night”. Because he refers to death as only “that good night”, it leaves room for imagination which means that death becomes something unknown and – in contrary to Dickinson’s portrayal – an unfamiliarity to the reader. In Thomas’s eyes, we should fear death and fight against it. Meanwhile, Dickinson’s message is different, she thinks we should accept it. She does want us to “go gentle into that good night” because she believes there is no point in “[raging] against the dying of the light”. According to her, we should come to terms with the death because it is inevitable, and to rebel against that would be senseless.
In conclusion, although these poems have many differences, the poets view one thing in common when it comes to death: its inevitability. In “Because I could not stop for Death”, death is not something that can be avoided. In fact, we can’t decide when or how it comes upon us. This is the same in Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night”. Although he wants his father not to give up so easily, he knows it is inevitable and that sooner or later it’ll have to be dealt with. In my opinion, Thomas’ message is much more effective because I think the emotion is more powerful. At every stanza, he reminds his father not to go into “that good night”, and with every analogy he makes he tells him to “rage against the dying of the light” and to fight. This emotion of desperation is more relatable to readers because more often than not, when a close one is dying, we tend to tell them to fight a little more for life. The majority of people don’t want to accept the death of their loved ones which is why I think Thomas’ raw, emotional message is better translated and understood than Dickinson’s dispassionate outlook on death.
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