What does Emily Dickinson convey in the poem "Because I could not Stop For Death"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Through this excellent personifiation of Death as a kindly old man driving a carriage, Dickinson seems to present a rather ironic and different impression of death than we usually associate with this figure. Through this personification, Dickinson seems to challenge our own views about death and make us think very carefully about our own lives and expectations of death. Ironically, the speaker of this poem is so busy that they haven't thought about death or prepared themselves for it in any way:

Because I could not stop for Death--

He kindly stopped for me--

Note the irony in the word "kindly." The speaker is so busy that Death has had to stop life for her. This is an impression that is continued throughout the poem, especially in the final stanza:

Since then--'tis Centuries--and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses' heads

Were towards Eternity--

The speaker shows that she is surprised to learn that life is actually a journey towards death and that she seems unprepared for it. The way that our lives are described as being a long ride "towards Eternity" to my mind communicates the challenge of this poem. Dickinson cuts through the business of our lives and the way that we often try to ignore our final fate by telling us that no matter how busy we are, we can't outlive death. We need to accept that our lives are one long journey towards "Eternity," and live our lives accordingly in response.

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