Do any other recurring sound patterns besides rhyme strike you in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Besides the traditional ending rhyme, in her poem "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Dickinson makes use of other musical devices such as meter, uneven rhyme, repetition, assonance, and alliteration.

  • Meter 

While the entire poem is written in iambs [an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable], the first and third lines are eight syllables, while the second and fourth lines have six syllables. Here is a demonstration of this metric scheme:

.......1..................2...............3....................4
Be CAUSE..|..I COULD..|..not STOP..|..for DEATH,
......1..................2.................3
He KIND..|..ly STOPPED..|..for ME;

  • Uneven rhyme

This musical device imitates natural sounds that are rhythmic, such as the waves of the ocean that move in time with others, but vary a little each time; with such rhyme, the lines of the poem are tied together. An example of uneven rhyme occurs with such ending words as are in the last stanza: "chill" and "Tulle."

  • Repetition/Anapora

Repetition also serves to move the poem as well as lending it a musicality. In the first stanza, for instance, the word "stopped" is repeated in line 1 and line 2. In the third stanza, the word "passed" is repeated three times, thus moving the stanza with a certain tonal rhythm. This repetition of a word is termed anaphora.

  • Assonance

Repetition of vowel sounds is used in such words as /e/ in the second line of the last stanza: "The Dews drew quivering...." and /o/ in the third line, "for only Gossamer my Gown--"

  • Alliteration

The repetition of the same and similar initial consonant sounds in words that are near each other serves to quicken the movement of the line. Examples of this occur in line 7 with "labor" and "leisure"; in line 10 with "Recess" and "Ring"; in line 11 with "Gazing Grain"; in line 12 with "Setting Sun"; in line 14 with "Dews and "drew"; in line 15 with "Gossamer" and "Gown"; and in line 16 with "Tippet" and "Tulle." Notably, most of this alliteration occurs in the last two quatrains of the poem, causing the speaker's journey to quicken toward the grave. 

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