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Can I have a detailed explanation of the poem "Because I could not stop for Death"?

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aishwarya95 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 20, 2009 at 9:22 PM via web

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Can I have a detailed explanation of the poem "Because I could not stop for Death"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 20, 2009 at 9:44 PM (Answer #1)

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There are many ways to read Dickinson's poetry.  If we were to take the most foundational reading (which is really hard with this particular poet), we would focus on how death "stops" for the speaker. Continuing on, the speaker and "death" travel together in this carriage.  The speaker settles in for a ride with the companion that takes them past school yards with children playing, past fields of harvest,  until they stop at what might be considered "a final resting place" with a large porch and barely visible roof.  The last stanza indicates that the speaker was visited by death quite a long time ago, yet it does not seem that long since such a fateful visit.  Dickinson was a poet that often wrote about death.  It captures the notion of death in a unique way.  Notice the opening lines:  "Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me."  No one really has "time" for death, as we are constantly busy with our daily activities.  School, job, enotes, etc.:  We constantly occupy ourselves with our own senses of self that preclude us from fully embracing the natural end of all existence that awaits us.  We, ourselves, "could not stop for death. " Yet, this does not prevent it nor deny it.  Rather, it does come for us, and in the process, when we understand that such a visit only holds us "and Immortality," we see the scope of our loves ("at recess, in the ring), our joys ("the fields of grazing grain), and our lives ("the setting sun.") We see everything as we approach our final resting place, which could be however one reads it.  Burial might be represented here, but the idea of some element of finality in this life is embodied by the structure with a roof "barely visible," almost giving the image of ascendancy.  The final stanza represents a voice that speaks of an experience centuries ago that awaits us, right here, right now, in real time. Something of the past speaks to our present and future.  The imagery in the poem is very powerful with the carriage, the descriptions offered in the third and fourth stanza.  The personification of death as a carriage driver is also fairly compelling.  If you are interested, I think there is an enotes discussion group devoted to this poem.  You might want to read those discussions, as well.

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tempcr | Honors

Posted July 20, 2009 at 10:14 PM (Answer #2)

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The joy of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is that it is very simple and visual. You can see it in your head.

Imagine a ghostly coach with Death inside stopping by the poet’s house and politely inviting her to get in.

The ghostly coach drives through the village and the poet can see the village school, the fields and the sunset. It is so dreamy that the poet is not sure whether the coach is moving and the world is still, or whether the coach is still and the world is moving past. Even her clothes seem to have dissolved into spider web and netting.

Finally, the coach stops at the cemetery, where each burial mound looks like a little house with the roof just poking above ground.

The surprise is in the last verse where the poet tells us that all this happened hundreds of years ago, even though it only feels like yesterday.

The poem is comforting. Death is polite, there is no sense of fear or hurry, and the grave is homely. The poet is happy to have left behind the hard work and rush of her life, and be living in this pleasant place fondly remembering her past life.

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