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 is the poem "Because I could not stop for Death—" about?

The poem "Because I could not stop for Death—" is about the experience of death.

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In "Because I could not stop for Death—," the speaker translates death into concrete terms. She imagines the personified figures of Death and Immortality stopping in a carriage to take her away on the journey to this other realm. She visualizes time slowing by showing the carriage very slowly passing by scenes such as children playing at recess in a schoolyard, fields of grain, and a sunset. It gets chillier as the speaker journeys more fully into death: presumably her body is getting colder. Finally, the carriage arrives at a strange new house with the roof just above the ground—her grave.

What is notable about this poem is the detached way the speaker regards death, as well as the way it is conceived in terms of everyday domestic details of middle-class life in the nineteenth century: a carriage ride, a "kindly" gentleman, a schoolyard, a dress and tippet, and finally, the arrival at a new "House." Yet all of these common elements are defamiliarized and made eerie by the speaker's experience of the journey. Time slows down to the point that the "Centuries" since the speaker died seem shorter than a day, and she observes the world from a strange distance as she adjusts to her new reality.

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