woman in repose floating through the air surrounded by ghosts

Because I could not stop for Death—

by Emily Dickinson

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Because I Could Not Stop For Death Metaphor

What are the key comparisons in similes and metaphors in Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death—"?

Throughout “Because I could not stop for Death—” the speaker compares Death, via metaphor, to a suitor, someone who likes her and is vying for her affection. He is “kindly” and treats her with “Civility,” taking her for a nice carriage ride before depositing her at a “house” where she can be comfortable. The “house” is a metaphor for her grave.

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In Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death," the extended metaphor which forms the heart of the poem posits that Death is a gentleman who has come to court the speaker. He has done this in a very "kind" and "civil" way, driving his carriage to the speaker's door in order to pick her up and then drive her in a leisurely way, devoid entirely of any undue "haste," towards their final destination, his home.

This metaphor continues when the speaker catches sight of Death's "house." Unlike what might have been expected from a suitor escorting a lady home, the house in this instance is clearly a representation of the grave, being a "swelling" in the ground.

We understand that the speaker did then enter the house of Death and will remain there until "Eternity," from the final stanza of the poem, in which the speaker notes that the heads of the horses on the carriage were pointed towards "Eternity." Meanwhile, she recognizes that she has been with her suitor, Death, for "centuries," but it does not feel as if even a day has passed.

Essentially, the central metaphor of this poem is that Death is personified in the form of a suitor or bridegroom, taking the speaker in his refined carriage from her own house to his, the grave, where she will remain forever.

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Death is compared, via an extended metaphor, to a potential suitor, or a lover of the speaker. A metaphor is a comparison of two unalike things, where one is said to be another (and is often described as performing the actions of something else). She says that Death “kindly stopped” for her, as though to pick her up in his “Carriage,” like they were going on some kind of date together. Death is not made out to be scary and strange but, rather, is presented as something familiar and even flattering, as though she means so much to him that he takes great care to come for her. She describes Death as driving “slowly” and without “haste,” presumably so they could enjoy their time together in the carriage. He treats her with “Civility,” and they seem to travel past many sights she would have seen and enjoyed in life: the school, with children playing at recess, the fields of crops growing, as well as the sunset (which is also symbolic of death, as the “death” of day).

As the speaker begins to grow cold, as she is wearing only soft and light fabrics, Death takes her to a “House” which she describes as “A Swelling of the Ground.” This, it seems, will be the speaker’s final resting place, her grave, and she compares it, via metaphor, to a kind of house. Indeed, it will house her body for eternity.

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While Emily Dickinson most dominantly used personification, symbolism, and imagery in her poem "Because I could not stop for Death--," we certainly can see a couple of uses of metaphor and simile

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simile.One example of a metaphor can be found in the first stanza with respect to the carriage. The carriage driven by Death is not literally a carriage but rather a metaphor for life's journey that ends in death and of passing from life into the new state of death. Similarly to ancient mythology, the carriage represents a way of being taken to the underworld, just as the Ancient Greek god Charon transported deceased souls to Hades in a ferry on the river Styx. We can tell the carriage is not an average carriage because it "held but just Ourselves--/ And Immortality." Death can be seen as an endless life and, therefore, as an immortal life. Hence, since the carriage is not an average carriage, we know it is representative of a larger idea. More specifically, it represents the ferry of Ancient Greek mythology, and both are metaphors for the passage of life into death, as if transitioning into death was like taking a ride in a carriage.A simile can be found in the second-to-last stanza in which she describes the house they stopped at as "seemed / a Swelling of the Ground--," meaning a house that looked like swollen ground, kind of like a mound, more specifically, a burial mound. Hence by using the verb "seemed," she is comparing the house to a burial mound.The "House" itself is also another metaphor. Its not a literal house they have stopped before. Instead, the term house refers to the afterlife idea of a house in the Kingdom of Heaven, an idea we get from the Gospel of John in which Jesus, during the Last Supper, tells his disciples he is preparing a place for them in his Father's house in the Kingdom of Heaven:

In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2, NASB)

Hence, by using the term "House," Dickinson is comparing the afterlife to a dwelling place, like a house and metaphorically representing the afterlife as a "House." Yet, the "House" is also submerged in the ground, just like a tombstone; therefore, we also know it is metaphorically representing a tombstone.

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What is an example of a simile in Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death—"?

Dickinson's iconic poem about death as a suitor collecting her in a chariot is full of personification and alliteration, but it lacks any examples of simile. A simile is a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as." For instance, "that house is as large as a mansion," or "this food tastes like heaven."

As you will notice when reading "Because I could not stop for Death," there are no examples of comparisons using "like" or "as." The closest any lines comes to a simile is the following:

"We paused before a House that seemed/ A Swelling of the Ground -"

The word "seemed" comes very close to the meaning to the word "like," and the  imagery compares a grave to a home. If one were pressed to argue that the poem contains a simile, this would be the best example. Still, as you can see, it lacks the telltale "like" or "as" that most people associate with a simile.

Another example of what one might term a "half-simile" comes in the final stanza, with the line:

"Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet Feels shorter than the Day"

Again, neither the word "like" or "as" is present, but the world "feels" conveys a similar meaning, and the comparison stands: the centuries that the narrator has been dead feel shorter than a single day.

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