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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In Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death," what is the speaker's attitude?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Emily Dickinson's poem titled "Because I could not stop for Death," we can see a general attitude of acceptance of the inevitability of death, yet the speaker also shows a natural dislike of death due to its coldness and its permanence.

One element in the poem that best expresses the speaker's attitude of acceptance is imagery. Some of the imagery is very peaceful and even pretty, painting a peaceful, accepting tone. Some examples of peaceful, pretty imagery include "where Children strove / At Recess" and "Fields of Gazing Grain." Both of those images sooth the reader by conjuring up happy, peaceful images, helping to portray a peaceful accepting attitude.

Imagery also serves to paint the speaker's more glum, reserved attitude towards death, such as "The Dews drew quivering and chill." Since this image paints the speaker as being cold and shivering, we can clearly see the speaker thinking of death as a cold and dislikable element. Also, the final diction choice of the word "Eternity" helps us see the speaker's forlorn attitude towards death because the speaker realizes death is an infinite element.

All in all, the speaker accepts that death is inevitable but also sees it as being a very depressing element.

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jennifereager | Student

Most people fear death. It represents an end to everything a person knows, and we have no way of knowing what comes next. Some people believe in heaven or an afterlife, some believe in reincarnation, and some believe we simply cease to exist. It's the not knowing that makes humans fear it. However, in this poem, the narrator seems calm, even happy, as she "had put away my labor and my leisure too--for his civility." Death is depicted as a kind carraige driver taking her to the next plane of existence, and she plans to enjoy the ride.

The poem goes on to speak of earthly activities; children playing at school representing life itself, the "fields of gazing grain" representing toil and reward for our life's work, and the setting sun representing the decline of life into old age and eventually, death. One doesn't get a sense of fear, rather, our narrator simply observes life as a natural progression to death.

Things grow a bit darker when the narrator speaks of "dews drew quivering and chill--for only gossamer, my gown--my tippet--only tulle," and she could be referring to some fear of death, which chills her. The house in the next stanza is somehow buried in the ground--possibly the house is like a grave, representing the place where she will now dwell.

The final stanza of the poem shows us that the narrator is at peace with her death. Centuries have elapsed, yet they feel shorter than the day she realized she was dying. I think Dickinson is trying to show that perhaps we have nothing to fear from death; that indeed, it's possible that we might even enjoy it more than life.