Discuss how Emily Dickinson makes universal comments from her own reflections and experiences in, "Because I Could Not Stop For Death."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Emily Dickinson was a young woman of limited experience, but not reflection. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, except for a year at school and a seven-month stay in Boston, Dickinson did not leave the area in which she lived. However, she was a great reader, also:

maintaining lively correspondences with friends and relatives.

Along with a wondrous imagination, she wrote relevant and realistic poetry.

It is paradoxical that a woman who led such a circumscribed and apparently uneventful life managed to acquire the rich perceptions that enabled her to write 1,775 poems unlike any others in the English language.

Emily's father was a successful lawyer. Though neither of Emily's parents were emotionally demonstrative, family life with her siblings and a father was often away, provided her with inspiration to write about feelings and relationships.

Emily was educated at Amherst; she also lived for a time at a house where "Emily’s window overlook[ed] the West Street Cemetery where daily burials occurred.

Emily and her sister nursed her mother through an illness that began in the early 1860s, until her mother's death in 1882. Her father died suddenly in 1874. Death is a common topic in her poems.

Emily was also very intelligent, obviously enough to project herself into situations where she had never been, as with the poem, "Because I could not stop for Death." It would seem that through observation and reflection, Emily was well aware that death did not ever "take a holiday." It appeared whether one was prepared or not.

The poet personifies death: Dickinson gives it human characteristics, and the word is capitalized as a name would be, or to stress its importance (or even its eventuality). The busy life the speaker has led has not provided time for him/her to slow down for Death, but Death "kindly" stops for the speaker. Dickinson presents her sense of common day manners and etiquette in the way she speaks of Death's behavior, as if he is doing the speaker a favor.

One source mentions that in the poem, as a woman, the speaker could not travel alone with Death—which would have been inappropriate by standards of the day—but is "chaperoned" by "Immortality."

It is probably also within the realm of her experience to have gone many times on a casual ride in a carriage. Once again, the scene is likened to a relaxing jaunt through the countryside. There is no concern or fear: she respectfully puts away her "labor, and my leisure, too" for the benefit of Death. They are both being very polite as two individuals would be, even if they were not overly familiar with one another.

On countless days carriages passed children at school, whether the youngsters worked or played. Perhaps when she was young, she was one of those children. And while a wagon carrying a casket might be seen from the building, it would not given many pause as children are quickly distracted and move on with their play.

The rest of the poem comes from observance and imagination: passing grain fields, the setting sun (end of day/end of life). And then they arrive at her "resting place." It is not much more than a swelling in the ground; perhaps Dickinson walked through a local cemetery at times, wondering about the names on the stones.

The length of her rest has passed quickly, as did the day on which she realized her life in this world was over.

Her topic is universal—death is! Dickinson merely personalizes it using her imagination and perhaps not-so-limited insights.

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