In her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” death is portrayed as a gentleman who comes to give the speaker a ride to eternity. Because the poem is in first-person narration, Death also serves as a metaphor for depression; Death would be an escape from the pains of life. One day, I was presented with this poem to study and analyze. Because death is such a morbid topic, which made me hesitant at first. However, the more I read into it, the more interesting it became.
Emily Dickinson has certainly done her best to write about something that cannot be explained or resolved very easily in words. Fortunately for us readers, she does not fail in doing so magnificently. The beginning of this poem seems innocent enough: “Because I could not stop for Death—/ He kindly stopped for me—” There are two points which draw attention here: “Death” and “stopped. ” Because of the capital letters, we know that Death is a special person; it does not refer to any of the three stages of life (birth, middle age, and death).
Dickinson did not call him ‘Death’ for anything: she emphasizes his role in this poem. He plays two notable roles: he is kind enough to pick up the speaker and give her a ride; he also serves as an allegory for her depression. Because of this particular illness, she could not get out of bed (she could not stop for anything because of the lack of strength necessary); so Death kindly stops for her instead. The title is also very significant: Because I Could Not Stop for Death.
Dickinson does not say Because I Wanted to Stop for Death, Because I Could Not Get Out of the Way for Death, or Because My Body was Weak from Illness and I Could Not Stand Anymore. No – her title is Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Because of this sad state of affairs, she cannot even get out of bed. In some ways, Dickinson could have been talking about herself as a child in the poem: “At length did cross an Albatross / Through the fog it came! Both had illnesses that were not physically visible yet very debilitating, both longed to escape their illness even if they couldn’t explain how they felt (the albatross needed to be set free, the speaker needed to “get out of bed”). Because she was stuck in this pitiful state, Death took pity on her and kindly stopped for her.
In my opinion, Dickinson did a great job of not making death sound too frightening here. It sounds rather enticing: “The carriage held but just ourselves—/ And Immortality. Because this man can get someone confined to their bedroom out of this depression, there must be something extraordinary about him – immortality seems fitting for such a person. It also evokes imagery of deep love between two people because he would take her away from herself to spend eternity with him. Maybe Emily Dickinson did see herself as the speaker who is so exalted with the company of death. Because this poem is written in the first person, it allows us to look into her mind and interpret her message in a way that we could never do if she wrote about someone else.
It also shows how deeply distressed she was: “We passed the School, where Children strove / At Recess—in the Ring—/ We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—/ We passed the Setting Sun. ” She has such vivid imagery here; you can almost see these children running around playing games and hear them laughing (the ring may be an allusion to something). The grain fields may be a metaphor for youth and time slipping by; they seem to go by too quickly without slowing down once. Because she spent so much time in this depression, she was able to take notice of everything that would have previously passed her by.
Because the speaker is stuck in bed, Dickinson uses sunset imagery here – just as the sun goes down and slips out of sight, so does youth and happiness slip away from the speaker without her having any means for escape. The last few lines are powerfully open-ended: “And then we started, and I knew / That such a Glory waited for me…” It is unclear whether Death took her to heaven or if it was all part of her imagination; perhaps he will offer to take someone else with him on the carriage ride who will understand what they mean to each other.
Whether or not death is a good thing is left up to the reader: “And that was all my Knowledge then—/ Because I did not stop to see” suggests she didn’t care, because she couldn’t get out of bed; yet it could also suggest that she knew what was going on (her illness prevented her from getting off the carriage). Because Dickinson gives us such an open-ended conclusion, we as readers can decide what happens after this poem for ourselves. Is death all that bad if it saves one from depression? Perhaps we should all go with Death when he comes for us and escape our troubles before life becomes too hard and nothing seems worth living for anymore.
The first three stanzas represent how Dickinson feels like a child, but the last stanza represents how Dickinson intends to live her life from here on out. Because she realized that other emotions were worth experiencing and relishing in, her depression has been lifted. Because I could not stop for Death – Because Death was able to give me a purpose for living, Because he gave me this poem as my self-eulogy, Because I would never have known that there was more to life if it weren’t for Death – Because of all of these reasons, Death will always be welcome in my home from here on out.