Home Literature Because I Could not Stop for Death Summary Stanza By Stanza

Because I Could not Stop for Death Summary Stanza By Stanza

by Litinbox

“Because I could not stop for death” is a popular lyrical poem written by Emily Dickinson. It was first published posthumously in 1890 in Poems: Series 1, but nobody knows the exact date of its composition.

Dickinson’s works appear to have been written with no intention to be published, because her works were never published during her lifetime. For this reason it is impossible to determine if “Because I could not stop for Death” was left unfinished or complete. The poem is incredibly famous due to the concepts of death and life after it.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Because I Could Not Stop For Death is composed in the first-person point of view. Here the author personifies Death as the gentleman caller who comes to take her for a carriage ride. The carriage ride symbolises the journey from life to death, with the different stages of life passing by as they travel.

The poem consisting 6 four-line stanzas known as quatrains. The poem is primarily viewed as a meditation on the fact of mortality, an acknowledgement of inevitability of death. It examines the concept of death and briefly contends that the death is not something that one should be afraid of, but rather, it is a natural part of life.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death Summary

Stanza 1

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

The first stanza of “Because I could not stop for Death” deals with the speaker’s recollection of her encounter with Death personified as a polite figure and friend like (‘He (death) kindly stopped for me’).

The speaker informs the readers that it was not she who has decided to pause and talk to Death, but Death itself kindly stopped for her. Two of them travelled in a Carriage and no one else was present in the vehicle.

The words ‘Immortality’ and ‘Death’ are expressed in this stanza and it suggests that death has bestowed the life after death upon the speaker. The tone of the stanza is calm and reflective that indicates that the speaker has accepted her fate.

Stanza 2

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

In this stanza, the speaker narrates the experience of riding in a carriage with Death. The speaker points out that the journey occurs slowly, which emphasises Death’s unhurried manner. This means that Death is not hurried to take the speaker’s life but is slow and composed.

The second line, “And I had put away,” meant that the speaker literally relinquished her labor and leisure time. The speaker has freed herself from the affairs and concerns of the world, and accepted the need to embrace Death. The speaker surrenders to death without resistance since she acknowledges Death’s inevitability and it supplant all earthly concerns.

Finally, the speaker denotes, ‘His Civility’, meaning that the Death is well mannered with the speaker. This anthropomorphism of Death makes it less threatening or horrifying and more composed as a civil officer.

Stanza 3

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

In this stanza of “Because I could not stop for Death” the nature of the speaker’s journey with Death is described as they travel through various settings and scenes. First, they drive by a School, and children are in school ground at the time of the break and they are playing in a circle. This image in some ways suggests the energy of youth and purity and innocence of childhood.

Then they come across the Fields of Gazing Grain, indicating potentially huge areas of crop or fields of grain-gold. This scene is full of fertility, prosperity and the realisation of the productivity in life that represents the cycle of life and the fruits of labour.

Finally, they pass by the Setting Sun, in other words, they stop at the time when the day comes to its end. Obviously the symbol of sunset stands for the passage of time, the onset of dusk, and the inevitable conclusion of the day (symbolically “the inevitable conclusion of life”). The impression this image suggests the passing of youth and the onset of old age, and the inevitable death that follow it.

Stanza 4

Or rather – He passed Us –

The Dews drew quivering and Chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

In this quatrains the poet still focuses on that experience of meeting Death but adds more details to the description. To understand the effectiveness of the stanza, it is essential to examine how the imagery it uses evokes a sense of eeriness, stillness and coldness. Instead of the speaker reaching out the death, it is the Death passes by them. The word “rather” indicates a shift in perspective or expectation.

The stanza then proceeds to describe the environment that prevail everywhere where Death is perceived to be. The “Dews” draw quivering and chill, and hence a shivering sensation is experienced. This symbolises the speaker’s realisation of the cold reality of death and it can alter the state of things around her.

The last two are important because they describe the speaker’s attire. Her gown is made out of a material known as “Gossamer”, a very thin and sheer fabric, and the tippet (a decorative shawl) is made out of “Tulle” as well, and this is also a very light fabric indeed.

These choices of fabric are to convey a sense of fragility, lightness or transparency. In this sense, the speaker’s intention is to convey the readers the transient nature of human life.

Stanza 5

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

In this stanza of “Because I could not stop for Death” the speaker describes that they pause and observe a strange and mysterious house. The house is rising from the ground and the structure of the house is portrayed by the author as a “swelling of the ground”.

The roof of the house looks nearly invisible, or almost indistinguishable and blended into the surroundings; the cornice is also appears to be imbedded into the ground as well. These images suggests the finality and permanence of death.

Because the whole poem is about death, the description of the “House” as a “Swelling of the Ground” can be interpreted as a reference to the grave or burial ground. Probably, the speaker is referring to her own grave.

Stanza 6

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

The last quatrain demonstrates that the speaker has been spending centuries in this carriage with death but she perceives it to be a mere twinkling of an eye, even shorter than a day. This idea of time suggests the perpetuity of death; a clear oxymoron.

The last two lines of the poem recall the speaker’s journey with Death and Immortality in the carriage. The “Horses’ Heads” were “toward Eternity” indicates that her journey was towards an eternal existence. In short, the poem ends with the speaker being taken to her grave, which focuses on the theme of death’s finality.

“Because I could not stop for Death” is quite a meditative take on the subject of death. Symbolism and imagery are used in this poem to show the path to death, and the fact that the speaker accepts her own mortality. It encourages the reader to think about life, the inevitable death and the acceptance of death as a form of attaining peace.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death Analysis

“Because I could not stop for Death” is divided into six stanzas consisting of four lines each that epitomize Dickinson’s literary style and her unconventional perception of death.

In the following analysis, we will discuss the key ideas of the poem and how they were illustrated through the use of poetic devices.

Theme of Mortality

The main theme of work focuses on death and the process of moving to the next life. In the poem, Dickinson embodies Death as a carriage driver who waits for the speaker to accompany him and they travel for eternity.

As seen in the poem, it is a certainty that death is unavoidable and thus it should not be dreaded. Thus, Dickinson challenges the traditional perception of death, referring to it as a friendly entity rather than something horrifying.

Personification and Symbolism

Readers can identify personification of Death throughout the poem, as well as use of symbols. Death is personified as a patient gentleman who kindly stops for the speaker and portrayed as universal and inevitable.

The carriage ride symbolises the passing of time, where each stage of the speaker’s life – childhood, mature years, and eternity – correspond with each scene that the speaker and Death encounter.

The tone of the poem is calm and composed, and the mood is reflective and contemplative. Dickinson’s use of an omniscient speaker allows the reader to observe the events from a detached perspective that contributes to the notion that death is inevitable and should be accepted.

Endless Life Cycle

Using symbols and other literary devices, “Because I could not stop for Death” can be seen as a representation of the human life cycle. The poetic journey symbolises life and the various aspects of it; beginning with birth, adolescence, adulthood to eternity.

The fact that the journey has no end means that life and death go in a cycle and are endless, hence the existence of humanity does not stop with death.

FAQs : People Also Ask

Q: How is death personified in the poem, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”?

Personification is a figure of speech that attributes human characteristics to things or abstract ideas.

In “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”, Emily Dickinson describes Death as a gentleman who kindly takes the speaker on a carriage through various stages of life and eventually to her grave.

Death is personified as patient and courteous, rather than a menacing force. The poet is able to accept the inevitability of death and a natural part of life.

Q: What is the message of Because I could not stop for Death?

Because I Could Not Stop For Death revolves around the theme of inevitability of death. It also suggests that Death is something to be feared, rather it should be accepted as a natural part of life.

Traditionally, poets have depicted death as a menacing and fearsome force. But, Dickinson chooses to sea the death in a different perspective that challenges traditional view.

So, the message of “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is Death is a gentlemanly figure and one should not be afraid of death.

Some scholars see the opposite way. Like all, the speaker too is afraid of Death, ‘She could not stop for Death’. Later she identifies Death as a gentlemanly figure who is courteous towards her.

It’s the ignorance of people that makes them afraid of Death. But, Death stops for everyone – it is an inevitable part of life – and takes them in a gentle manner.

Q: When was ‘Because I Could Not Stop For Death’ published?

“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” was published posthumously in 1890 in the collection called Poems: Series 1 by Roberts Brothers of Boston.

The poem was written probably around 1863 and was not published until Dickinson’s death, partly because she never intended to publish her poems.

Q: When was the poem “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” written?

“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is one of the masterpieces of Emily Dickinson, and American poetry as a whole, was written around 1863.

Along with “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died” and “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” shares the theme of Death as an unavoidable part of life.

Q: Which poet wrote about death?

Emily Dickinson is the poet who wrote about Death. There may be other poets who touched the theme of Death, yet Dickinson remains unattainable in popularity in respect to her theme of Death.

Though Emily Dickinson wrote about 1,800 poems, the poems which she wrote on the theme of Death have become more popular than others.

Here are the poems of Emily Dickinson that depict Death in various perspectives:

  • Because I Could Not Stop For Death: “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is the most popular poem in this category. Dickinson personifies Death as a gentleman caller who takes her on carriage in a gentle manner.
  • I Heard a Fly Buzz – when I died –: In this poem, Dickinson describes the moment of death and the speaker’s surreal experience of the transition from life to death.
  • I felt a Funeral, in my Brain: In this poem, Dickinson picturises the psychological and emotional impact of Death.
  • The Bustle in a House: This poem reflects on the aftermath of death and how it affects the loved ones in the family.

Next Page: About Emily Dickinson