Essay, Research Paper: Because I Could Not Stop For Death


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Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” is a remarkable
masterpiece that exercises thought between the known and the unknown. Critics
call Emily Dickinson’s poem a masterpiece with strange “haunting power.”
In Dickinson’s poem, “Because I could not stop for Death,” there is much
impression in the tone, in symbols, and in the use of imagery that exudes
creativity. One might undoubtedly agree to an eerie, haunting, if not
frightening, tone in Dickinson’s poem. Dickinson uses controlling
adjectives—“slowly” and “passed”—to create a tone that seems rather
placid. For example, “We slowly drove—He knew no haste / …We passed the
School … / We passed the Setting Sun—,” sets a slow, quiet, calm, and
dreamy atmosphere (5, 9, 11, 12). “One thing that impresses us,” one author
wrote, “is the remarkable placidity, or composure, of its tone” (Greenberg
128). The tone in Dickinson’s poem will put its readers’ ideas on a unifying
track heading towards a boggling atmosphere. Dickinson’s masterpiece lives on
complex ideas that are evoked through symbols, which carry her readers through
her poem. Besides the literal significance of —the “School,” “Gazing
Grain,” “Setting Sun,” and the “Ring”—much is gathered to complete
the poem’s central idea. Emily brought to light the mysteriousness of life’s
cycle. Ungraspable to many, the cycle of one’s life, as symbolized by
Dickinson, has three stages and then a final stage of eternity. These three
stages are recognized by Mary N. Shaw as follows: “School, where children
strove”(9) may represent childhood; “Fields of Gazing Grain”(11),
maturity; and “Setting Sun” (12) old age” (21). In addition to these three
stages, the final stage of eternity was symbolized in the last two lines of the
poem, the “Horses Heads” (23), leading “towards Eternity” (24).
Dickinson fathomed the incomprehensible progression of life by unraveling its
complexity with figurative symbols. Emily Dickinson dresses the scene such that
mental pictures of sight, feeling, and sound come to life. The imagery begins
the moment Dickinson invites Her reader into the “Carriage.” Death
“slowly” takes the readers on a sight seeing trip where they see the stages
of life. The first site “We” passed was the “School, where Children
strove” (9). Because it deals with an important symbol, —the
“Ring”—this first scene is perhaps the most important. One author noted
that “the children, at recess, do not play (as one would expect them to) but
strive” (Monteiro 20). In addition, at recess, the children performed a
venerable ritual, perhaps known to all, in a ring. This ritual is called
“Ring-a-ring-a-roses,” and is recited: Ring-a-ring-a-roses, A pocket full of
posies; Hush! hush! hush! hush! We’re all tumbled down. (qtd. in Greenaway
365) Monteiro made the discovery and concluded that “For indeed, imbedded in
their ritualistic game is a reminder of the mortal stakes that the poet talks
about elsewhere”(21). On this invited journey, one vividly sees the
“Children” playing, laughing, and singing. This scene conveys deep emotions
and moods through verbal pictures. The imagery in the final scene, “We passed
the Setting Sun,” proved very emotional (12). One can clearly picture a warm
setting sun, perhaps, over a grassy horizon. The idea of a setting sun,
aftermath a fact of slumber in a cold dark night. When Dickinson passed the
“Setting Sun,” night drew nigh and it was time to go home and sleep.
Symbolically, Her tour of life was short; it was now time for
“Eternity”—death. While sight seeing in the carriage, one can gather, by
the setting of the sun, that this ride was lifelong. It is evident that death
can creep up on His client. In example, often times, when one experience a
joyous time, time seems to ‘fly’. In the same respect, Emily Dickinson
states “Or rather—He [the Setting Sun] passed Us—” (13). In this line,
one can see how Dickinson, dressed for the “Day,” indicates that a pleasant
time was cut short (15,16). Before She knew it, the cold “Dews drew quivering
and chill”(14). The imagery in this transcendent poem shines great light on
some hidden similarities between life and death. This poem exercises both the
thoughts and emotions of its reader and can effectively change one’s viewpoint
of an eternal future. Eternity and Death are two important characters in Emily
Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death.” In fact, eternity is a
state of being. Dickinson believed in an eternity after death (24). Agreeably,
one can say that Emily Dickinson’s sole purpose in this poem is to show no
fear of death. Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Because I could not stop for
Death,” will leave many readers talking for years to come. This poem then,
puts on immortality through an act of mere creativity. Indeed, creativity was
captured at all angles in this striking piece.

BibliographyDickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for Death.” The Compact
Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 4th ed. Boston:
Bedford-St. Martin’s, 1997. 642-643. Greenaway, Kate.
“Ring-a-ring-a-roses.” The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Ed. Iona and
Peter Opie. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951. 365. Greenberg, John M.
“Dickinson’s Because I could not stop for Death.” Explicator. v49n4.
Summer 1991. 218.
Monteiro, George. “Dickinson’s Because I could not stop for Death.”
Explicator. v46n3. Spring 1998. 20, 21.
Shaw, Mary N. “Dickinson’s Because I could not stop for Death.”
Explicator. v50n1. Fall 1991. 21.
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