What are some figures of speech used in "Because I could not stop for Death—" by Emily Dickinson?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Because I could not stop for Death—" by Emily Dickinson uses many different figures of speech, including figures of thought and figures of sound.

In terms of sound, the first thing to note is that the poem consists of six quatrains using half- or slant rhymes. The poem has many examples of alliteration, or repetition of the initial consonants of words including:

  • labor - leisure
  • Recess - Ring
  • Gazing Grain
  • Setting Sun
  • Dews drew
  • Gossamer Gown
  • Tippet Tulle

Next, the poem uses metaphor. The overarching metaphor of the poem is comparing life to a journey in a carriage, beginning at birth and progressing through childhood and maturity to Death, which is also seen as the beginning of Eternity. The notion of Death and Immortality being together with the narrator in the carriage is both a metaphor and a form of personification. The journey can also be described as an allegory, an extended narrative metaphor.

Another figure of speech is used in the lines:

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –

This figure is "correctio" in which a speaker corrects or emends or clarifies an earlier statement. 

Another example of metaphor is the portrayal of a grave as a sort of small house, set low in the ground.

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shineinthedriverseat | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Some figures of speech contained within Emily Dickinson's contemplation of death.

Anaphora

(Repeating a sequence of words for emphasis, in a group of nearby phrases)

Lines 9-12:

We passed the school,

Where children strove, at recess in the ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

Alliteration

(Beginning two or more words with the same letter or repeating the same sound within a group of words)

Line 5

He knew no haste

Line 24

Toward eternity

Paradox

(A part of the writing that seems to contradict itself)

Lines 21 & 22

Since then tis' centuries, and yet each

Feels shorter than the day

Personification

(Representing something that is not human, as if it were)

Lines 1 & 2

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

Periphrasis

(From the Greek "peri" meaning "around, and "phrasis" for "to tell". Restating what may have already been said in a vague way)

Easing the reader into the harsher image of the grave by using softer language:

Lines 17 & 18

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

Metaphor

(Hidden or stated comparison of two objects, things or persons that are separate but share common characteristics)

This entire poem is an extended metaphor for death.  In this case the 'carriage' is used to represent the passage to death:

Lines 1-4

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

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