How does Dickinson powerfully convey ideas about death in her poem "Because I could not stop for Death"?

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kcoleman2016 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death" uses a series of poetic devices that emphasize the themes and content of the piece. For each, I'll display an example, define the device, and analyze its presence: 

  1. Personification: "Because I could not stop for Death- / He kindly stopped for me-"
    the practice of giving human qualities and characteristics to non-human beings or objects
    In Dickinson's poem, death is not a fearsome, alien idea, but a polite gentleman who has "civility" and knows "no haste". As a result, Dickinson transforms a concept that many people fear and actively avoid into a familiar and personable figure who is not to be feared but to be interacted with. 

  2. Metaphor: "We paused before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground- / The Roof was scarcely visible- / the Cornice- in the Ground-"
    a comparison between two unlike things
    Rather than refer to the place where death stops and stays as a tomb or a grave, Dickinson calls it a house, passingly describing it in a manner that implies it is non-descript rather than haunting. By doing so, she normalizes death, comparing the final resting place of a corpse to the commonplace resting place of a living person. Again, she works to normalize death and remove the fear with which it is normally associated. 

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