woman in repose floating through the air surrounded by ghosts

Because I could not stop for Death—

by Emily Dickinson

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What imagery is used in Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"? Is it visual, tactile, auditory, etc.?

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Imagery refers to descriptions that appeal to our five physical senses; imagery, therefore, can be visual (describing something we would see), auditory (for something we might hear), tactile (for something we could feel with our sense of touch), olfactory (for something we could smell), or gustatory (for a thing we would taste). This poem makes the most use of visual and tactile imagery; there is no olfactory, auditory, or gustatory descriptions. The poem contains some visual imagery in the descriptions of the "Fields of Gazing Grain" and the "Setting Sun." We can easily see in our mind’s eye the wheat fields bending in the wind and golden in the sunset’s golden yellow light. The imagery of the dew is both tactile and visual, as it is described as "Chill" (which is something felt) and "quivering" (which is something seen). This is called synesthesia, actually, when an image appeals to two or more senses at one time. Further, the description of the "Gossamer" gown and "Tulle" Tippet is both tactile and visual as well. These fabrics are very light and thin, and they are both so diaphanous and gauzy that we can imagine how they feel on our fingers as well as see their transparency and sheer quality. These images draw attention to the narrator’s physical body, something she will soon be shedding. This will very likely be the last chill she feels and the last time she is aware of the lightness of her garments because, in death, one assumes, she will feel no discomfort or lack.

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Emily Dickinson uses a variety of imagery in this poem. Most of it is visual—she describes Death arriving in a carriage and catalogs the various views she passes in the carriage with him, such as the "fields of gazing grain" and the sun setting. She does not describe the sound of the carriage, nor the voice of Death; at the end of the poem, she describes arriving at a "house" which is underground—a sort of mausoleum, perceived visually.

There are some elements of imagery in the poem, however, which are not visual—for example, the active verb "strove" applied to the children in the school passed by the carriage creates a sense of dynamism and movement. One can almost feel the children moving and interacting with each other—this is in a sensory way which contrasts with the serenity of the group in the carriage.

Later, there is also some sensory imagery relating to temperature; the speaker, dressed in a gown of "gossamer," feels the "chill" as the sun sets and the carriage moves towards its final destination. There is a sense that the carriage is moving away from the real world and into a colder, "quivering" one—literally, the sun is setting upon life and ushering the speaker towards death.

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Imagery refers to descriptions that appeal to the five senses. The strongest imagery in Dickinson's poem is visual and tactile, appealing to the senses of sight and touch. Beyond that, Dickinson's use of sound devices suggests auditory imagery as well.

The visual images Dickinson creates are of the carriage in which the personified concepts of Death and Immortality ride--conjuring an image of a gentleman caller and a chaperone. Visual images of a school with children fighting in a playground and a sunset shining upon fields of grain follow. The "swelling of the Ground" that is the grave is easy to picture, and the "Horses' Heads" wording allows readers to visualize the horse-drawn carriage at the end. 

The tactile imagery evokes the feeling of movement when Dickinson says "We slowly drove" and repeats "passed" several times. In stanza 4, the feelings of temperature and texture are quite strong with the descriptions "The Dews drew quivering and Chill," and "only Gossamer, my Gown -- My Tippet -- only Tulle." Readers can almost feel the cool air on their skin under the filmy garments.

Although there are no overt sound descriptions, Dickinson's choice of words creates some sound imagery as she uses alliteration and consonance to stand in for the sounds she doesn't describe. In the beginning of the poem, the hard /k/ sounds of because, could, kindly, and carriage bring to mind the clopping sound of horses' hooves. The word quivering is mostly tactile, but it has a slight auditory aspect to it as one thinks of teeth chattering or a rustle caused by something that quivers. In the final stanza, in the cemetery, the hushed /s/, /sh/, and /h/ sounds in the words since, Centuries, shorter, surmised, Horses', and Heads create the feeling of being in a silent and still graveyard. 

Dickinson's haunting poem contains rich visual and tactile imagery, and through skillfully applied sound devices, it creates auditory sensations as well. 

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Dickinson uses visual and tactile but no auditory imagery in this poem to describe death.

In this poem, death is pictured as a gentleman in a carriage. While we as readers don't get a physical description of the appearance of the gentleman Death, we do learn that he is civil and we get a picture of the leisurely carriage ride, carried on without haste, that the narrator takes with Death. 

In the third stanza, more visual imagery is introduced. The carriage passes a school where children play at recess, as well as fields of "gazing" grain and a setting sun. 

In the fourth stanza, the narrator introduces tactile imagery in the form of cold weather. The narrator mentions the "chill" and the dew "quivering." The narrator wears only a thin gown, made of "gossamer," so we can imagine her feeling the chill. Coldness and chill are not familiar sensory images used to describe death. 

In the fifth stanza, the visual imagery returns as the narrator describes a "house," which is, in fact, a grave: "a swelling of the ground." 

In the final stanza, the narrator uses another visual image, saying that the "horses' heads" leading the carriage are headed towards eternity. Eternity is an abstract concept, but the idea that we are in a carriage pulled by horses slowly leading us toward eternity (death) is something we can see. 

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