When and where does "Because I could not stop for Death" take place? What is the significance of the setting and of any other details in the text?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Dickinson does not specify an exact location as to where the poem is happening. When Death "kindly" stops to pick the speaker up, though the setting is more universal in nature, we presume the setting is her hometown and the time is the era of her adulthood.

There are some specific scenes in the poem where a setting is evident that are associated with the speaker's life. These scenes are the school yard, where children assemble for recess, a grain field and a deepening at sunset view.  Finally, Death and the speaker pause at a "House," a grave.

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He [the Sun] passed Us –

The ending of the poem reveals the speaker voicing their experience from beyond "Eternity": "I first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity –."  This beyond the grave narrative challenges the conventional idea of setting.  The speaker's voice emerges from a place and time that "feels shorter than the day." 

It is significant that Dickinson develops a setting that expands traditional ideas of time and place.  In doing so, she creates a different understanding about Death.  When Death calls upon us, it challenges what we once knew as it presents us a different path upon which we must inevitably walk.

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