illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Start Free Trial

How are the two poems "Because I could mot stop for death" and "I heard a fly buzz - when I died" similar?

In poem 479, Emily Dickinson presents death as a man who drives a carriage. It is a metaphor for the inevitability of death. The speaker cannot stop for Death because she has her own responsibilities. She leaves behind the world to go to heaven because she believes that it is where she belongs. Poem 591 shows the same idea of death being inevitable and unavoidable, but in this poem, the speaker says goodbye to her family before she dies. Although they are sad to lose her, they know that it was time that she died since she had lived a full life already and had done everything that she wanted to do.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Emily Dickinson wrote many poems about death. Two of the most unusual of them are "Because I could not stop for Death" (479) and "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died" (591). Both of these poems relate the death of the speaker in the first person, meaning that...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the speaker is describing her own death after she has already died. In this each poem violates the adage, "Dead men tell no tales." One of the most mysterious things about death is that no one has lived through it to tell us about it. This accounts for, in our day, public fascination with near death experience accounts likeHeaven Is for Real and others.

Both poems personify death, giving it human characteristics. In the former, Death is driving a carriage that brings the speaker to the graveyard. In the latter, death is described as "the King" in line 7. Both poems reveal a resignation toward death; the speaker knew she had to go. In Poem 479, she states, "I had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility." Poem 591 mentions the speaker having made her last will and testament. Both poems have a calm, quiet tone. "We slowly drove - He knew no haste" describes the mood in the first poem, and the second refers to "the Stillness in the Room."

Both poems use understatement to great effect. The first describes Immortality, an overwhelming concept, as something that is able to ride as an extra passenger in the carriage. The second focuses on the sound of a fly buzzing--something very mundane and insignificant when compared to the immensity of death.

Both poems use the "fourteener" structure that Dickinson favored: Each stanza consists of fourteen iambic feet arranged in alternating lines of four and three. Of course, both poems also display Dickinson's unique capitalization and punctuation quirks, especially the dash.

Both poems demonstrate Dickinson's unparalleled poetic genius in that they capture a perspective on death that challenges the reader to consider the topic in new and surprising ways.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does reading the two poems "Because I could not stop for death—" and "I heard a fly buzz—when I died—" together make you see or understand things you might not if you read them separately?

Reading these two Dickinson poems gives you insight on how the poet views death. Reading each poem alone, you might not get the same understanding of death. In "Because I could not stop for Death—," Dickinson portrays death as a kindly entity who patiently stops by to pick her up and take her away to the afterlife. Death is not frightening or angry here—indeed, Dickinson shows us a gentle view of death. In "I heard a fly buzz—when I died—," she shows a light moment just before a person dies. Everyone is gathered in the room, waiting for the dying person's last breath, when a fly buzzes by. This moment takes the seriousness out of the death scene and also shows that you can't always plan for how death is going to be. Dickinson shows the reader that death is not an awful thing. It is part of life and can't be avoided or planned for; also, we should not fear it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on