What is suggested by the movement from one image to the next in Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death--"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death--" is certainly full of images, starting with the opening image of riding in a carriage. It's in the third and fourth stanzas that we see the most images, and she does not spend time elaborating on each image. Instead, she relays one image in one or two lines and moves on to the next image. The hasty movement from one image to the next represents the hastiness and shortness of life, which stands in fascinating contrast to her description of Death, the driver of the carriage, knowing "no haste."

Imagery in literature creates pictures in a reader's mind. Since reader's can picture anything having to do with the five senses, images are specifically made of words having to do with the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Images stand in stark contrast to abstract ideas, such as death, life, love, or hatred, which we cannot sense, and also help us better visualize abstract ideas.

Dickinson's third and fourth stanzas contain many sight images, including the sight of children playing at recess; the sight of fields full of grain, "Gazing" at the sky; the sight of the sun setting; and the sight of a nightgown made of gossamer, a very thin material, and of a tippet, a type of scarf often slept in for added warmth, made of tulle, another very thin material.  The fourth stanza also contains the touch image of night growing chilly as the sun sets, especially due to the thin night clothing the speaker is wearing.

Not only do these two stanzas contain many images, the lines of the stanzas rapidly move from one image to the next. The rapidness of the transitions between images symbolize the movement of life. Life passes by us very, very quickly, and as the speaker rides in the carriage towards the afterlife, she passes all the sights she has seen in her life and is being reminded of just how quickly life has passed before her.

Yet, the speed of life passing by contrasts with Death, the driver of the carriage, because he is driving very slowly. The reason for this is to show that, while life itself moves quickly, life in death has no movement at all; instead, one is stuck in the same moment of death for all eternity.

Hence, Dickinson very craftily uses slow imagery and swift transitions between other images to capture the movement of life and to contrast life with death.

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