Explain the poem and especially the carriage in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily Dickinson's poem 479 or "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," approaches an much discussed subject  in an interesting way.  The narrator of the poem is dead and is travelling to her final resting place.

Death appears personified in this poem as a courtly beau who gently insists that the speaker put aside both “labor” and “leisure.”

Death stops and picks up the person because no one wants to meet death. 

The trip has a ready made vehicle: a carriage, or for death, a hearse. Only the dead person and a chaperone, eternity,  ride in the hearse

The funeral procession always moves at a snail's pace.  The scenic route to the graveyard moves by the school yard with the children playing games at recess and then a beautiful, sunny field of grain. 

As the journey continues, the sun begins to set.  Figuratively, the setting sun represents the passing of the woman's life over to the other side. Dressed in a funeral shroud and scarf made of delicate lightweight cloth, the corpse feels a chill.

Finally, the hearse pauses before a a swelling of the ground or a grave.  The top of the grave is not visible because it is part of the earth.  Centuries have passed since this person was buried; however, it only seems a few hours since the dead one saw the heads of the horses carrying her body to its tomb.

One of the unusual aspects of the poem comes from the attitude of the narrator.  Death brings no fear to the poet.  It is a part of life, and everyone has to face it.

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

A person does not stop for death; death has to find the person. Only Emily Dickinson in her brilliance would imagine her demise as though she were going on a date with a handsome boyfriend [Oh, by the way, he is death.] and traveling in his horse and buggy. What is the final stopping point? Destination: the grave!

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