Because I could not stop for Death— Questions and Answers
by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death— book cover
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What is the tone of "Because I could not stop for death" by Emily Dickinson and "Death Came to See Me in Hot Pink Pants" by Heather Royes? 

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While both poems present unconventional depictions of and attitudes toward death through personification, Royes's "Death Came for Me in Hot Pink Pants" has a bit more complex attitude toward death than Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death."

Dickinson's classic poem reads sort of like a children's rhyme, which is disconcerting since we know from the start of the poem that Death has come to take our speaker to the afterlife. The predictable meter and (mostly) slant rhymes give the poem a feeling of innocence and comfort. The speaker willingly goes along with Death into the carriage, where he is described as a civil gentleman. The speaker refers to her grave as a "House" twice in the penultimate stanza. The subject matter of the poem is darker than its tone; the speaker seems content to go along with Death and does not resist.

On the other hand, Royes's speaker reacts in a more complex way to the appearance of Death in her dreams. As in Dickinson's poem, Death is personified, but Royes describes him as wearing "hot-pink pants / and matching waistcoat too" (3-4). The speaker finds herself interested in Death because of his flashy appearance. She also describes him as "beautiful." Death is intriguing to the speaker. However, Death treats this speaker in a more aggressive manner than the gentlemanly Death in Dickinson's poem. In both stanzas, Royes's speaker says that Death reaches for her throat. In the second stanza, she fights back, "hit[ting] him with a polished staff" (15). Death reacts by laughing, and the speaker wakes up "unable to breathe" (21). Although we might think the speaker is now feeling more threatened and afraid, she closes the poem by again reflecting on Death's beauty and "hot-pink pants." What we get in Royes's poem, then, is more ambiguous and complex than what we see in Dickinson's poem. Royes's speaker is both drawn to and afraid of Death and does not willingly go along with him as Dickinson's speaker does. 

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Both poems demonstrate an unusual tone toward death and personify the normally somber subject of human mortality. In Dickinson's "Because I could not stop," the speaker is lighthearted and whimsical in her attitude toward Death, who stops by in a carriage. When she does not pay him the attention that one would think Death garners, she says that he "kindly" stops by for her. Her curiosity seems to get the best of her; so she willingly steps into his carriage and rides along leisurely with him. Dickinson's use of images such as children at recess on the playground and "Fields of Gazing Grain" help reiterate the truth that the speaker does not appear to be the least bit concerned about riding around with Death. As the poem closes, the speaker admits that when she stepped aboard the carriage, she did not know that the "Horses Heads / Were toward Eternity," taking her to her grave, but even at this point, the speaker's tone does not become grim or solemn.

While Heather Royes' "Death Came to See Me" also possesses an atypical attitude toward the character of death, the speaker is not nearly as complacent about going anywhere with him. Like the speaker in Dickinson's poem, Royes' speaker is fascinated with the mysterious character who shows up in her dream, but she physically fights him when he reaches for her throat. Despite the altercation, the speaker still maintains an admiring, enamored tone toward Death, especially when it comes to his "hot pink pants," laughter, and beauty.

Ultimately, both poems use the speakers' tones to present the idea that perhaps death will not approach one in the expected, dreaded manner. According to Dickinson, it might include a unhurried ride past life's daily treasures, or like Royes' character, death might fancifully fight us while we succumb to a fascination with its appearance. 

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