Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Review of Emily's Dickinson's poem Because I Could Not Stop For Death



by Rebecca Camarena



Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Because I could not stop for Death” written in 1862, could be considered an examination of one’s own conscience in preparation for death after a long life. Dickinson was greatly affected by death and had friends and loved one’s who died early in their life probably due to diseases, sickness or injury. When she wrote the poem in 1862 the country was in the midst of the “Civil War”, so while the political aspect of the war was not a major theme in her poetry, dying as a result of war had a major impact on the country and quite possibly her poetry.

The speaker examines her life with death at her side. Maybe, the speaker is not quite ready to die and thus the opening line in the first stanza, “Because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me” and also, the mention of her state of dress, “For only Gossamer, my Gown – My Tippet – Only Tulle,” give us the image of the speaker being in her night clothes with a light wrap around her shoulders and the speaker feels that this is not the proper attire to meet death. However, it seems that the speaker has had a long life and seems resigned to accepting death, “And I had put away my labor and my leisure too.”

The examination of conscience begins in the second stanza and recalls early childhood in “We passed the School, where Children strove at Recess – in the Ring.” “We passed the fields of Grazing Grain” signifies the adult aspect of the speaker’s life and “we passed the setting sun” reflects the later years of the speaker’s life.

Because Dickinson lived longer than a lot of her close friends she probably wondered what it would be like to die and questions on her mind might have been why was she still alive and what her purpose was on this earth.

The tone of the poem seems peaceful yet hopeful because of the line in the first stanza, “The Carriage held but just ourselves and Immortality.” The speaker believes that while life on earth is coming to an end there is life after death in eternity where you will be reunited with loved ones.

The poem in the third stanza takes us through what seems to be a beautiful time of year that symbolized childhood, perhaps spring, when it is warm enough to play on the playground. “We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess in the ring,”

The Fields of Grazing Grain is another reference to adult life and the time of year being the harvest season when the bounty of the fields will bring in money and other abundances to last families during the North East winters.

However, as the death journey continues the setting sun has passed and the fourth stanza states “The dews drew quivering and chill” makes reference to a time when the winter chill is in the air. Or is it the speaker’s apprehension of death in the last few moments of life?

In the final stanza the poem seems to be hopeful again and focuses attention on how eternity will feel, but could also be a reference to how fast the years seem to go the older you become, “Since then ‘tis centuries and yet feels shorter than the Day.” The final thought of the poem brings the reference to eternity when the speaker surmises “the Horses’ Heads were toward Eternity.”

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