woman in repose floating through the air surrounded by ghosts

Because I could not stop for Death—

by Emily Dickinson

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Who is the speaker of the poem "Because I could not stop for Death—"?

The speaker of "Because I could not stop for Death—" is a woman who has died.

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"Because I could not stop for Death—" is narrated by a first-person speaker who has died. This speaker describes what death is like.

The speaker is a nineteenth-century woman from middle class circumstances, much like Emily Dickinson. We know it is a woman because she says she is wearing a "Gown" and "Tippet," a long narrow shawl. She displays an ironic personality in the opening stanza, noting that because "she could not stop for Death," he "kindly" stopped for her. This conveys the truth that humans never have time to die and will not, in the normal run of an emotionally healthy life, seek out death. It is also startling, and the opposite of how we usually think, to describe death as "kindly." The speaker ends the stanza by displaying an awareness of the paradox that death is both an ending, a "stop," and the route to immortality of an eternal afterlife.

The speaker grows more serious, however, as death sinks in. She uses imagery to describe the experience: time slows down, passing at "no haste." In fact, it seems to stop: they pass the "Setting Sun," an apt image for death, but then the speaker notes that "rather — He passed Us." The activity of life grows more distant, like a scene being watched. Eventually, the speaker and death come to her new home, a grave.

The speaker shows herself to be an acute observer of death, one who describes it in the context of nineteenth-century small-town life.

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