What stages in life do the places and things (such as the mound) that the speaker passes in her ride with "Death" symbolize in the poem, "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker of "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" finds herself taking an unexpected ride with "Death," who transports her through her stages of life.

With the use of metaphor, dying is compared to an unexpected carriage ride. (In Dickinson's time, this comparison would not have been as unusual because in the nineteenth century, hearses were drawn by horses; so, they were, essentially, carriages.)

Here are the stages of life and their symbolic meaning in this poem:

  1. Youth - The gentleman named "Death" and the speaker pass the "School," which acts as a symbol of childhood. In the schoolyard at recess, the children make a "Ring," which may be symbolic of the custom of children to hold hands and go around the small circle, or ring, that they have formed as they sing such songs as "Ring around the Rosie."
    This song is actually a macabre song about the Bubonic Plague of 1665.
  2. Maturity - The fields of grain that are "Gazing" appear ready for the harvest as they have reached maturity. This stage is middle age.
  3. Old Age and Death - The "Setting Sun" symbolizes aging and the eventual end of life, indicated by the "Swelling of the Ground," (the mound) which suggests a grave.

The order of the places which the speaker and "Death" pass certainly describes the chronological stages of a person's life. In this poem, as in so many others, Miss Dickinson demonstrates her "tragic vision."

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