Because I Could Not Stop for Death Analysis
Emily Dickinson is known for using death in different contents within her poems. Death usually means the end of someone’s life. Dickinson has it mean more than just that. McNaughton says that Dickinson got some of the ideas in her poems from reading the news and found some real life death situations in the news (McNaughton 205). Dickinson’s poems on death fall into four different categories. The first category are those dealing with the actual fact of death. The second category, are those dramatizing the ceremony of death. The third category, imaginative descriptions of graves. The fourth category, are the ones visioning immortality (Flanders 208). Some of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems are about death, among other topics. Emily Dickinson describes death differently in her poems, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died,” “A Clock Stopped - ,” and “It was not Death, for I stood up.”
How Emily Dickinson Portrays Death
Death is described as a human being and used as immortality in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Dickinson uses death as a living being and not dead. Usually when you think of death it is with a dead person, but not in this poem. Within the first couple lines of the poem, Dickinson talks about Death as you would normally talk about a human being. Personifying death, the speaker states that “He kindly stopped for me- / The Carriage held but just ourselves” (Dickinson 2 - 3). All of the things living beings could do, “kindly” stopping and riding in a carriage, the poet has death doing. Dickinson also has death used for immortality. She substitutes eternity for immortality in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”
The point of the poem is to describe the moment when the concept of immortality was shocked into vanishing from the speaker’s consciousness. By the end of “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” immortality was no longer in the mind of the speaker of the poem. Although, the speaker had been comfortably settled with death in the “carriage of death” (Vendler 225-226). Death is described as being “Immortality” until the speaker realizes that death is not immortality. That moment was when she got into the carriage with death. This poem, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” will also fall under the fourth category that McNaughton describes. Dickinson has other poems that relate to death but they have different meanings than “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”
Death builds up suspense and relates to the reality of funerals in “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died.” Throughout “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died,” Dickinson uses this poem to build up eagerness to make the readers sit on the edge of their seats. Within the first couple stanzas of “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died,” Dickinson builds up suspense to what is going to come later in this poem. Vender says, “The first two stanzas exist to build up suspense: “Stillness” occurs twice, “Room” occurs twice, and “Room” is made to rhyme with “Storm” as the room is made the eye of the hurricane, its stillness “like the Stillness in the Air - / Between the Heaves of Storm -”” (Vendler 267; Dickinson 3 - 4).
The first time she uses “room” and “stillness” builds up suspense for the following times she uses “stillness” and “room.” Dickinson also uses the reality of a funeral in “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died.” The family has been crying for a while and have no more tears left to cry. They also were breathing abnormally and are trying to normalize their breathing again. Dickinson says, “The Eyes around - had wrung them dry - / And Breaths were gathering firm” (Dickinson 5 - 6). They were crying so much and breathing so irregularly. Dickinson shows what really happens during funerals in “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died.” “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died” will fall under the second category that Emily Dickinson writes death about. She has more poems that show death in ways other than “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died.”
Death as a Character
Death is described as the character that is the opposite of death and described by using imagery in “It was not Death, for I stood up.” The character in the “It was not Death, for I stood up” is actually not dead. When you are dead, you are lying down. “It was not Death, for I stood up, / And all the Dead, lie down” (Dickinson 1 - 2). The character in the poem was able to stand up, so she was not dead. When you are dead, you can not stand up at all. Within “It was not Death, for I stood up,” Dickinson is able to use images to describe death in different ways. She described time that has stopped. Which is a depiction of death in this poem.
She also used the word “midnight,” because death is usually seen as being dark. When it is midnight outside, it is pitch black outside except for the moon and a few stars that are seen outside. “And ‘twas like Midnight, some - / When everything that ticked - has stopped” (Dickinson 16 - 17). She is about to go into darkness, where there time does not thick anymore. “It was not Death, for I stood up” will fall under the third category of what Emily Dickinson writes death about. When this “darkness” occurs, clocks and time do not occur. Dickinson describes death using imagery and as a character that is living in “It was not Death, for I stood up,” which is different from other poems she had wrote.
In “A Clock Stopped - ,” Emily Dickinson uses a clock as a symbol for death and a human body that is dead.. The speaker of the poem states, Vendler states in her book, “Then quivered out of Decimals - / Into Degreeless noon” (Dickinson 8 - 9). When a clock strikes midnight, only one hand on the clock is seen, so it looks like it has no degrees to the hands of the clock. “When “Degreeless noon” strikes, mortal beings “quiver” out of their places on “the Dial life” into nothingness” (Vendler 91). When human beings leave their place on Earth then they go into “nothingness.” Like in “It was not Death, for I stood up,” when a clock stops ticking then nothingness occurs or darkness occurs.
This poem also speaks about a human being dead. It is only mentioned once and very shortly, but Dickinson still included it. When Emily Dickinson uses the words, “It will not stir for Doctors” , the human body is mentioned (Dickinson 10). The human beings the doctors are working for are not moving. The doctors are trying to make the body move but it is not moving. Since it is not moving then the body is dead. “A Clock Stopped - ,” will fall under the fourth category of McNaughton’s framework. Dickinson likes to use death to mean different things in her poems and death in “A Clock Stopped -” is different from her other poems that she has written in her lifetime.
In conclusion the poems, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died,” “A Clock Stopped - ,” and “It was not Death, for I stood up,” Emily Dickinson was able to imply Death as being something greater than what everyone thinks Death is. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Dickinson describes himself as a human being and used as immortality. In “I Heard a Fly buzz - When I died,” builds up suspense and relates to the reality of funerals. In “It was not Death, for I stood up,” described as the character is the opposite of death and in imagery.
In “A Clock Stopped - ,” Emily Dickinson uses a symbol for death and a human body that is dead. Emily Dickinson uses a clock as a symbol for death. None of Emily Dickinson’s poems are alike when it comes to the meaning of death. Emily Dickinson’s poems usually fall under four categories. Those four categories consist of those that are dealing with the actual fact of death, dramatizing the ceremony of death, imaginative descriptions of graves and the ones that visioning immortality (McNaughton 205). Usually everyone associates death with a dead living thing, but not Dickinson. She associates death with further meaning and adds poetry to the original meaning of death.