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The Portrayal of Death in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

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Emily Dickinson`s, Because I Could Not Stop For Death is a complex type of poem, that provides us important question about the construction of the poem. Why did she choose to talk about death?, how? and in what way?. Each poet has a particular way of writing, concepts and techniques, like language, literary devices, rhetorical methods, verse and stylistic features.

This essay explores and focuses on how Emily Dickinson develops to portray death by the understanding and effect of her context in the poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death.

Emily Dickinson was a reclusive American poet, she is known posthumously for her innovative use of form and syntax. She was born on December 10 of 1830, in Amherst, New England. It was one of the first European colonies of the New World, they were patriarchal societies, Pilgrims settled in this region for the first time in 1620. This is an important point in Emily´s context because, perhaps for this reason we can see similarities between the English society of and the Puritan society, which Dickinson lived in, the Puritans believed they were doing God’s work. Harsh punishment was allowed to people how inflicted on the way of God’s work. Dickinson was educated at Amherst Academy, she was excellent student, then she went to a seminary. She has an important religious influence on her poetry because a crucial issue at the time was the religion, it had influence in all people’s life and was dictated by this, every religious people had the same beliefs and attitudes but she was a rebel of the ideologies her time dictated, she was different and had other perspectives that are reflected on the way she writes and expressed in her poetry, she doesn’t fit in the stereotypes. Dickinson left the school in 1848 and the reasons are unknown; there are many theories, but the one that is more relevant is that she had a fragile emotional state of mind, also that her father decided to pull her from the school, after that she never joined a church, she was going against the religious norms of her time.

Dickinson’s seclusion is an object of discussion, it´s know that she suffered from different conditions, she had agoraphobia, depression and anxiety, and that may have been the reason that she had a mental breakdown due to her responsibilities as caregiver of her sick mother and the situation of her country. Then she eventually lived an isolated life on the family homestead, she never leave this place, there she secretly created poetry and wrote hundreds of letters, she began writing as a teenager. Furthermore it was around this time, from the late 1850s to mid-’60s, that she was most productive on her poetry, also because the Civil War and that corresponded to Dickinson’s most intense period as a poet, during which she is thought to have written half of her total number of poems. She had friends like Higginson who fought in the war, death was all around her. Dickinson died of kidney disease in Massachusetts, on May 15 of 1886, at the age of 55. After her death her family members found her hand-sewn books, by her sister Lavinia, they contained nearly 1,800, poems they were published after her death by her sister. She is now an inspiration for other poets and people who read her and want to start their own poetry.

All of her contexts influence in the perspective she had of the word, how she wrote her poetry and why she decided to write about the themes she explores in her writings, like the death of the civil war, this is going to be reflected in my analysis of her poem and how to understand her words.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death, it was released in 1862, by the list of Dickinson’s poems with the theme of death. This title first impression is powerful when you read it at first, she is talking about dead and that she could not stop death like it has a relationship with it, it’s talking about the consequences about not stopping death, the title engage the audience want it to know more about what she is referring and talking. The speaker in this poem is communicating from beyond the grave, portraying her journey with Death, giving the perspective it has about dead, from life to the great beyond. It is talking about the day she meets and clash death. Subsequently the poem creates that the audience have a lot of questions and start to reflect and have a big engagement: Is the speaker happy about dying? What is death for each people? What will happen after we die? Why she can´t stop it?. It explores the curiosity of the audience by creating a death scene that’s familiar to the living, that is something we can all imagine and we all know even if we don´t like it, is a unification to all people, maybe because she is effete of people fighting, she was presence at war. Her goal is for people to normalized death because it’s normal for her.

The first verse is the poem is the same as the title “Because I could not stop for Death –” this is the first interaction we have with the poem, we see a clear alliteration, reveals the point of view she has, a very passive and acceptance of death. We see that the journey to the grave begins in stanza 1, with the theme of the problems that can be seen as demons that we all carry inside and the relationship with humanity, “He kindly stopped for me –” she was to absorb by life, the problems she had. to think of death, so death stop her, but it wasn’t something raw, it was gentle, so this reveals that she isn’t afraid of death, she want to have a closer relationship. “The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality”. Immortality is a passenger for all of us and the carriage and death is calling us to go and know the mystery, to accept the destiny and be free, this is how stanza one ends, with this powerful message that make us think about death being personified and what is immortality?.

In Stanza 3, it starts with the perspective of Dickinson stages of life, she in narrating her cycle. The first verse is “We passed the School, where Children strove”, the school is a symbol of the morning of life, the innocence, learning and going through stages, not knowing what the world is about. “We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – We passed the Setting Sun –” the grain is the midday of life and the working years, maturation; the setting sun, the journey into death as night and day, by using personification, comparing of the sun to a person, the life and the death, like the colors we see at day and night, black as fear, blue as the sky is life and beautiful, and the light. We see the use of alliteration and anaphora.

The poem ends with this last stanza, it is very important for a poet to make an excellent ending of a poem cause is the message that the reader keeps and reveals what the author is telling with the poem, the story she is transmitting. The last stanza of the poem reveals that this journey happened centuries ago, we have that the point of view that is a flashback, the speaker has been dead throughout the poem and is reveal nearly at the end. Death is being personificated like immortality because even when someone is death they can return, in many aspects that she is telling, that when we die we see the real world.

She use the description of the grave as her “house”, that it’s somewhere to go, where she belongs, her place, where all humans end and that we pass more year in the grave than in the earth, her “family”, it demonstrate how comfortable she feels about death and being around it. Then, the time pass and it´s pleasant her new life , she seems to like it more, she is now in peace, time seems to stand still, and she feels it “shorter than a Day”, easy to accept and be used to it, like her days are raw and difficult to go through. She is talking from the grave but the memory is still present and fresh. The horses in the last two lines symbolize the speaker’s journey to death, and also her journey into the eternity. The horses are strong like her and fast like life, horses act with instinct, so her instinct is go with death.

The poem ends with the phrase “Were toward Eternity –”, it shows immortality, she says that although it has been centuries since she has died, but it feels no longer than a day, very fast and easy, like she was born for that and that is the meaning of life. She compares it to the day of her death were pulling her towards this eternity, telling death save her, making her permanent, with a new perspective of life and time, that death is not to be feared since it is a natural process of the cycle of live, we are all going to experiment it and go through it. Her view of death reflect her personality and religious beliefs, but she doesn’t talk about the normal religious story of death, it’s telling her own one, her perspective. She doesn’t talk about heaven and the sky, she has another story to tell about life. The poem has a structural form, it all look very organized, I think she did this because she is explaining dead very structural, like they are steps as life is. She makes us use our senses, to connect with poetry, with her words, and our nature.

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The Portrayal Of Death In Emily Dickinson’s Poetry. (2021, January 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from
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