What are the similarities between Mary Oliver's "When Death Comes" and Emily Dickinson's "because I could not stop for death"?

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mitchrich4199 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both "When Death Comes" and "I could not stop for death," the main similarity is that both speakers discuss death. However, their attitudes toward death are very different. In Oliver's poem, the speaker tells us that when death comes, she "want[s] to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?" She is able to do this because she has lived her life to the fullest, as illustrated here:

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Emily Dickinson's poem shows a speaker who has been collected by death in a carriage. She is being taken to her grave, past "the School, where Children strove/ At Recess-in the Ring-/ We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-." These are pleasant things, but we don't get the feeling that the speaker wants to live at or near these places. Rather, she arrives at her destination almost in anticipation of her own burial:

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground-
The Roof was scarcely visible-
The Cornice-in the Ground-
Since then-'tis Centuries-and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity-

Dickinson's speaker anticipates death, with a seeming ambivalence toward her life. Oliver's speaker is also ready for death if it comes, but isn't quite ready for the afterlife.

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