What are the main auditory elements in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death—"? Rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, euphony, cacophony, repetition, onomatopoeia?

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson was once described by renowned American author, poet and critic, as "one of the greatest in the English language."

True to Dickinson's style, the poem does not display a set rhyme scheme. However, a close reading reveals that the second and last lines of stanzas one, two, four, five and six do rhyme - although in some instances only half-rhyme is employed.

Stanza one: 'me' rhymes with 'Immortality'
Stanza two: 'away' rhymes with 'Civility' (half-rhyme: an almost forced pronunciation of civility as civili-tay.
Stanza four
: 'Chill' rhymes with 'Tulle' (half-rhyme).
Stanza five:  'Ground' rhymes with 'Ground'.
Stanza six:   'Day' rhymes with 'Eternity' (half-rhyme).

What is significant though, is that the words, 'Immortality', 'Civility' and 'Eternity' rhyme perfectly. These words embody the central message of the poem. It clearly emphasizes their importance and makes them stand out from the rest. Dickinson clearly wanted to draw the reader's attention to their significance.

The poem does have a rhythmic quality and many critics compare the rhythm to that of a ballad or hymn. When one considers Dickinson's deep religious beliefs, it is understandable that she wished for her poem to present such a significantly religious tenor.

Each stanza begins with an iambic tetrameter (four stressed - and four unstressed syllables) followed by an iambic trimeter (three stressed and three unstressed syllables), which gives the poem its rhythmic, hymn-like quality. The rhythm is maintained throughout the poem and thus makes it  lyrical.

Dickinson also used assonance to enhance the poem's lyrical quality. The repetition of vowel-sounds occurs throughout the poem. The first stanza, for example, prominently features the repetition of all the vowels.

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
The repetition of vowel sounds is recurrent throughout the poem and does
not only enhance its lyricism, but is also cohesive. 
 
Alliteration also features strongly throughout:
 
He knew no haste                           (line 5)
My labor, and my leisure                 (line 7)
... the school, where children strove (line 9) 
 At recess, in the ring                      (line 10)
 
There are numerous other examples which further add to the poem's lyrical
quality and aptly connect the poet's thoughts.
 
For further emphasis, Dickinson also employed anaphora
(repetition), specifically in stanza 4:
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
 
Dickinson's emphasis is clear in these instances. She wishes to draw our
attention to how important these particular events were to her. The
repetition also enhances the hymn-like nature of the poem.
 
It is evident that Dickinson's intelligent use of the above-mentioned devices added to the euphonic quality of the poem. The poem has a pleasant sound to it, underlining the ease at which the poet had come to embrace death. Instead of it being the terrifying reality that we all fear, she has welcomed it, showing that death is just part of an everlasting journey steeped in faith and that there is nothing to fear, after all.

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