Describe "Death" in Emily Dickinson's "Because I could Not Stop for Death".

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Death is presented as an actual character in this poem.

The opening two lines immediately establish what kind of person Death is: he appears as a courteous, dignified, and indeed ‘kindly’ gentleman (2) who comes to call on the speaker, in the manner of a suitor. She goes away with him in his carriage, with Immortality as their chaperon.

Death appears so gentle and inviting that it seems the speaker scarcely hesitates to accompany him:

 And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his Civility -  (6-8)

The speaker, then, drops everything – both her work and her pleasures – in order to be with Death.

Unlike so many portrayals of death, there is absolutely no suggestion of fear in this poem. Quite the contrary: the speaker actually seems to be lulled into a sense of peace, passing by old familiar sights and sounds before reaching her new home - the cemetery. The slow, even pace of the poem mimics her peaceful journey.

It should be noted, though, that although Death appears so 'kindly', he is not to be resisted. The speaker, although she is busy with life affairs when he comes, gives up everything else to be with him. It is interesting that the coming of death in this poem is figured as a kind of seduction. There is no sense of force or terror, but the speaker is completely in Death’s power, all the same.




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