Because I could not stop for Death— Questions and Answers
by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death— book cover
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How does the speaker feel about giving up her life? What proof from the poem can you offer?

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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An interesting question. The speaker in this poem notes that she "could not" stop for Death, a comment which suggests she is a person who was always too active and too interested in life to consider the possibility that she might die. In this poem, however, we can see that she does not have much choice in the matter. On the contrary, although she may have tried to outrun Death, Death "kindly stopped" in his carriage to collect her, instead.

We find more evidence that the speaker is a fast-paced person in her observations about the slow pace of Death's carriage, moving in a way that suggests Death "knew no haste." This appears to be contrary to the speaker's general attitude. We can also detect some regret from her about the fact that she has had to set aside her "labor" and "leisure" in order to accompany Death on this journey. The speaker, then, seems to view Death's appearance as an inconvenience which has distracted her from her daily occupations; she had little intention of stopping her work or play in order to die and is perturbed that Death has, in the guise of a "kindly" gentleman, determined to take her with him all the same.

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The speaker doesn't mind having lost her life. She was too busy her whole life, anyway—so busy, she could not stop for Death—and when Death comes, she "had put away / [Her] labor and [her] leisure too, / For His Civility." Death, in other words, is so civil (good company) that she has set aside the things that have kept her busy and entertained her whole life.

Moreover, he picks her up in a carriage. Death apparently lives quite well, being able to afford such a thing. Her death seems to be a journey into luxuries she has never known.

Our final clue is in the last stanza: "Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet / Feels shorter than the Day." She first realizes that eternity has begun. When a person is miserable or bored, time seems to drag, but that is not the case here. She knows on some level that centuries have passed since she died, but it doesn't feel that way. If time flies when you're having fun, she may even be enjoying death.

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