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Comparative analysis of Emily Dickinson's portrayal of death in her poems "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" and "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—"

Summary:

Emily Dickinson's portrayal of death in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" is serene and personified, depicting death as a gentle guide. In contrast, "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" presents death as a more mundane and unsettling experience, focusing on the physical reality and the moment of dying. Both poems explore different facets of death, blending calm acceptance with stark realism.

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How are Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for death" and "I heard a fly buzz - when I died" similar?

Emily Dickinson wrote many poems about death. Two of the most unusual of them are "Because I could not stop for Death" (479) and "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died" (591). Both of these poems relate the death of the speaker in the first person, meaning that the speaker is describing her own death after she has already died. In this each poem violates the adage, "Dead men tell no tales." One of the most mysterious things about death is that no one has lived through it to tell us about it. This accounts for, in our day, public fascination with near death experience accounts like Heaven Is for Real and others.

Both poems personify death, giving it human characteristics. In the former, Death is driving a carriage that brings the speaker to the graveyard. In the latter, death is described as "the King" in line 7. Both poems reveal a resignation toward death; the speaker knew she had to go. In Poem 479, she states, "I had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility." Poem 591 mentions the speaker having made her last will and testament. Both poems have a calm, quiet tone. "We slowly drove - He knew no haste" describes the mood in the first poem, and the second refers to "the Stillness in the Room."

Both poems use understatement to great effect. The first describes Immortality, an overwhelming concept, as something that is able to ride as an extra passenger in the carriage. The second focuses on the sound of a fly buzzing--something very mundane and insignificant when compared to the immensity of death.

Both poems use the "fourteener" structure that Dickinson favored: Each stanza consists of fourteen iambic feet arranged in alternating lines of four and three. Of course, both poems also display Dickinson's unique capitalization and punctuation quirks, especially the dash.

Both poems demonstrate Dickinson's unparalleled poetic genius in that they capture a perspective on death that challenges the reader to consider the topic in new and surprising ways.

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How are Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for death" and "I heard a fly buzz - when I died" similar?

Reading these two Dickinson poems gives you insight on how the poet views death. Reading each poem alone, you might not get the same understanding of death. In "Because I could not stop for Death—," Dickinson portrays death as a kindly entity who patiently stops by to pick her up and take her away to the afterlife. Death is not frightening or angry here—indeed, Dickinson shows us a gentle view of death. In "I heard a fly buzz—when I died—," she shows a light moment just before a person dies. Everyone is gathered in the room, waiting for the dying person's last breath, when a fly buzzes by. This moment takes the seriousness out of the death scene and also shows that you can't always plan for how death is going to be. Dickinson shows the reader that death is not an awful thing. It is part of life and can't be avoided or planned for; also, we should not fear it.

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Compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for Death" and "I heard a fly buzz when I died."

A casual reading of both poems reveals both deal with death. The speaker encounters death in some form or another then wrestles with the subject.

The tone between the two poems is quite different. "I Heard a Fly Buzz—When I Died" is like the titular insect filled with "uncertain" mood, with the speaker dying but not necessarily peacefully. They are surrounded by solemn people waiting for them to die, allegedly more interested in what they will get in the will than anything else. The poem also focuses on silence and minor, everyday details—which the speaker no longer takes for granted as they lay in bed waiting for the end to come.

The fly may or may not be a sinister image; one of the other commenters compared the fly to the demon Beelzebub, who was associated with flies, but the fly could simply be a neutral death figure as well. The fly coming between the speaker and the light could represent the darkness of unconsciousness overwhelming the dying speaker.

By contrast, "Because I could not stop for Death" presents a gentler portrait of death. Death takes the speaker into a carriage, and they drive leisurely through different landscapes. Here, death appears almost gentlemanly, even friendly, and he is certainly nothing to be feared. The unease is less present here than in the previous poem.

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Compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for Death" and "I heard a fly buzz when I died."

In terms of working on this particular prompt, I think you are going to have to do much of the legwork yourself.  Guidance and input can be given, but the bulk of the work is going to have be self initiated.  I think a good starting point would be to discuss the mood of each poem.  What general sentiments or feelings are brought out by reading each?  This might involve you reading the poems to yourself, aloud or silently, a couple of times in order to grasp where Dickinson's mind is and how she attempts to connect to the reader.  Another mode of discussion could be how death is characterized in each.  What does death "feel" or "look" like in each?  Then, ask yourself how different this might be from the traditional conception of death.  What  Dickinson is saying about death in both might be another topic to pursue.  Finally, I would examine the theme, or overall message, in each.  These might be good starting points to show points of convergence and divergence in both poems.

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Compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for Death" and "I heard a fly buzz when I died."

In accord with the first post, there is a clear difference in tone between the two poems.  For one thing, the introduction of the fly suggests Beelzebub, the "lord of the flies," or the devil.  This symbol of evil stumbling "Between the light and me" suggests that there is a point in which the soul of the speaker "could not see to see" where she is headed in eternity, whereas in "Because I could not stop for Death," the driver of the carriage that takes the speaker to her grave is "kindly" and "knows no haste"; the death holds no terrors as in the other poem; in fact, it is almost seductive. 

In addition to the tone of the poems, you may wish to compare/contrast the sequence of events and poetic devices in the poems, the sort of expectations set up by phrases such as "last onset," "the king" and "be witnessed" in "I heard a fly buzz" with the phrases in "Because I could not stop for Death" such as those in the first stanza, "We passed the setting sun/Or rather, he passed us," and others that indicate a more leisurely trip toward eternity, whereas in "I heard a fly buzz," the predatory fly waits to claim a corpse. 

Yet, characteristically of Dickinson, there is no enlightenment at the end of either poem.  The speaker is driven, albeit leisurely, inexorably to her grave; the king witnesses the death, but he cannot control anything but the allocations of the speaker's material possessions.

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Compare and contrast Emily Dickinson's poems "Because I could not stop for Death" and "I heard a fly buzz when I died."

In order to get a good answer, you should ask a more focussed question.  Are there specific things we can help you with?  I'll give you a couple thoughts about the two poems that might help you get started, though.

The main difference I see between the two poems is in their respective views of death.  In "Because I Could Not...," death is kind of interesting.  It's a journey (literally, in the poem) where you get to see things and remain conscious for eternity.

By contrast, the view of death in "I Heard ...." is much different.  In this poem, death is a much more negative thing.  When the speaker dies, that is the end.  All that happens is that she can no longer see.  There is no vision of what happens next.

As I said, though, the more specifically you can ask a question, the more useful our answers will be.

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How does Dickinson present the idea of death in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" and "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—"?

Certainly, the presentation of Death in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" is much more pleasant than that of "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died." For, in this poem, Death comes in the form of personification: A gentleman politely escorts the speaker in a carriage that "knew no haste" as they pass a schoolyard, and fields of grain in order to

pause before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground

which is her grave. In the final stanza, the spirit of the dead woman reflects that she did not suspect that the "Horses Heads/Were Toward Eternity"--that she had been headed to the grave when the gentleman escorted her in his carriage (a hearse?).

On the other hand, in the second poem, "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died," there is a boldness, rather than a blitheness, to the tone of this verse. Clearly aware of her dying, the speaker observes that the mourners await the moment of death just as she does; their eyes have been "wrung...dry" and breaths are held for 

...that last Onset--when the King
Be witnessed--in the Room

Ironically, this grand expectation is met with an ordinary--even repulsive--sound, that of a fly buzzing. In the anticipation of the rapturous entrance of the spirit into death, much like that of the first poem, there is only the auditory image of an insect that feeds upon that which is rotting or dead. Here Dickinson lampoons the folderol that often enters the mourning process: After the momentous executing of her will and the farewells to loved ones, the anticipation of "the King," who will awaken her spiritually, the speaker of the poem hears only a fly buzzing. 

Yet, despite their differences, both poems exhibit a playfulness and wit: the first poem's wit is light and charming, while the second poem's wit is somewhat satiric.

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