How does Emily Dickinson show individualism, inspiration, idealism and imagination in her poem #712 (also known as "Because I could not stop for Death—")?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Perception is everything in poetry: we each interpret a poem based on our own life experiences, knowledge and ideas. This is my personal reaction.]

You have identified several of the characteristics of Romantic writing, including individualism, inspiration, idealism and imagination. Emily Dickinson includes quite a few Romantic characteristics in this poem.

We might define individualism as...

...a single human being, as distinguished from a group.

Taking this definition quite literally, the speaker is the only human in the carriage.

The other two occupants are examples of the Dickinson's imagination; with the human passenger are the "supernatural" manifestations of Death and Immortality.

In studying the content of the poem, Dickinson is inspired to present Death as a suitor, one who woos for love:

He kindly stopped for me –...

...For His Civility –

Immortality is present to make sure nothing improper takes place:

Immortality also rides in the carriage...[because of] the necessity of a chaperon.

It is not until the end of the poem, that the speaker realizes her "gentlemanly companion" has actually carried her off to eternity.

Death is in reality a ghoulish seducer.

Idealism is probably best seen in how Dickinson imagines death: she is courteously "collected" and carried off in a proper way, in a proper carriage with a chaperon. She leaves her worries behind and glimpses, through the window as she passes, children at play and the beauties of nature—scenes of peace and comfort.

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

There is no need for worry, as seen in the casual pace of the horses:

We slowly drove – He knew no haste...

Death is not frightening; there is nothing to cause fear. All is tranquil and seemingly innocuous.


Additional Source:

Adventures in English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: Orlando, 1985.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the terms you listed are easier to see in Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" than others. Dickinson's highly imaginative poem is a great example of her individual style. 

"Imagination" is fairly obvious because Dickinson presents a very imaginative and creative image of death. Death is personified, described as a gentleman characterized by "His Civility." Dickinson imagines herself traveling to the afterlife in a carriage after she is so politely picked up by Death himself. She also imagines her grave as a like a house:


We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

The "House" is her burial site, but calling it a "House" with a "Roof" and "Cornice" lessens the intensity of the reality. Dickinson's choice to use a rather singsongy rhythm and rhyme scheme are also a creative strategy to make death sound pleasant. 

"Idealism" follows from Dickinson's "Imagination." She idealizes the experience of death by describing the gentleman picking her up in the carriage. The rhyme and meter also, as said before, make the experience seem pleasant and casual. Death treats her "kindly" and takes her to her eternal "House." 

"Individualism" is seen in the poem itself and also in the writer's style here and elsewhere. The speaker of the poem is an individual who clearly does not have time to die; she must be stopped by Death himself, because she "could not stop" for him. Her take on death is individualized, in that it comes from her personal perspective. Further, individualism can be seen in Dickinson's idiosyncratic writing style. Her trademark use of dashes and erratic capitalization are seen here along with her unique description of death and the afterlife.

"Inspiration" is probably the term that is most difficult to connect to "Because I Could Not Stop for Death." One could argue that Dickinson was inspired by her personal vision and the contexts of her time to describe death in the way she does. Her unique vision and style have also inspired other writers and have inspired admiration for her work to this day.  


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