Semansky argues that “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is a statement about the negative aspects of marriage for the independent, nineteenth-century woman.
Arguably her most well-known poem, “Because I could not stop for Death” underscores not only the value Emily Dickinson placed on her independence from worldly conventions, but also the fear she had of being ensnared by them. Long considered either a statement of Dickinson’s macabre attitudes toward death or a romantic rendering of her own imagined death, in fact this poem is nothing less than an argument against marriage and the smothering effect it can have on a woman’s independence. After all, “Death” here is personified as a suitor who takes his potential bride away from her busy life. An independent woman — especially in mid-nineteenth century New England — posed a threat to the social order, in which a woman’s proper place was beside her husband. A husbandless woman, then, was suspect — someone who stood outside the mores and expectations of her community. Speaking literally from the grave, the narrator of this famous poem recounts her seduction as a young woman and describes her inevitable journey toward death. It is only after she recognizes that the carriage’s final destination is her own grave that we no longer hear about her suitor. The speaker has been seduced, driven to her death, and abandoned.
6 Answers | Add Yours
This is a fascinating take on the poem. The concept of Death as a suitor is interesting because it brings to mind the idea of the Christian church as the bride of Christ. Marriage to Christ brings eternal life and happiness; marriage to Death brings despair and oblivion.
The reading into the poem of Dickinson's supposed fear of marriage is a stretch, in my opinion. Nonetheless, she did remain single throughout her life, and single status for a female in the nineteenth century presupposed some sort of defect, whether fear in the female or lack of family stature or absence of physical beauty. It is reasonable to suppose that Dickinson, as an unmarried woman, would ruminate on the situation.
I think cadena is right on in her comments. It does seem that Semansky imposed the marriage thesis upon the poem. The supposition that the carriage driver is necessarily a suitor may be a bit of a stretch, although the presence of a third party in the carriage can be interpreted as a chaperon. This analysis can be found also in Magill, as well as in other commentary.
Considering Emily's spiritual bent, there's another interpretation of the poem that seems interesting, the idea that the carriage driver who takes her into death is Satan himself in disguise, a "ghoulish seducer." This view is discussed in the Masterplots II essay.
If one imposes a predetermined thesis upon the poem, the carriage driver then could be any force that seduces us, pulls us away from life, and leads to death, figuratively or literally.
Do we have any real evidence that Dickinson did not get married because she though it stifiling and limiting? I have always thought it more likely that it was her shy and retiring personality that kept her not only from marriage, but also from social intercourse in general ... and then there are the two "my life closed twice" incidents ....
Short of actually asking Chris Semansky yourself why he concluded what he did about the poem, it is left to us to infer, or guess, based on clues that are given to us. In looking through some of his other criticisms, Semansky seems to like to take a more controversial and unique approach to older, classic poems. He has opinions that are much different from many others, often making statements that stand out in their boldness. Sometimes, he seems to make stretches, taking what could be a bizarre stance on a poem, and then going back and defending that stance. So, this poem is yet another example.
There is also a movement in literature and culture that views all art and writing through the view point of the "stifled woman." The feminist movement was a powerful force in culture that took old beliefs and ways of thinking about things, and presented a different angle. This viewpoint of the poem could be considered a by-product of that movement; Dickinson is not talking about death, no. Marriage is the death of individuality and freedom--that is what she is talking about. That concept is one that views her poem from a more feminist angle. Perhaps the critic endorses that movement, or thinks it is worth considering, in respect to this poem.
The fact that Dickinson herself never got married could also have fed into his opinion. To not get married in Dickinson's time was a rather large social stigma on the woman and her family, and many have wondered at her reasons for remaining single. This poem, interpreted as Semansky indicates in his critique, might be an attempt to answer that question--he is saying that Dickinson didn't marry because she found it to be stifling and limiting. So, perhaps Semansky wanted to allude to possible reasons for Dickinson's bachelorette status her entire life.
So, short of actually asking the question to the man himself, guesses are what we have. I hope that these possible responses help a bit; good luck!
I think I would also disagree, although this is an interesting read of this poem. I think I prefer the more traditional read. None of us have "time" for death; we are always busy with the things of life and have no intention of "stopping" for death. By the way, I think Dickinson's specific reference to "Death" coming for her makes it difficult to read it as a "suitor" --- although with Dickinson, you never know for sure.
After death "picks her up" and she puts aside her "civility," the rules that govern interaction in this world, they head through some of the stages of her life: school, grain ripening, and then on past the sunset. After this they pause at her new "house," just a swelling in the ground, a clear reference to her grave, her new home for centuries.
There are many poems that deal with death and its "interruption" of our lives. I have always found this to be one of the most interesting.
I really love this poem , but every time I read it I feel that the poetess fears death .The poets who love,write about love and those who hates write about hateness .so,I think that Dickinson is really afraid of death so she writes about death although she tries to personify death as a gentleman ,we never think of it as a kind and gentle.Maybe she wants to close the idea of death to us .
We’ve answered 330,506 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question