Because I couldn’t stop because of Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage endured but only Ourselves –
We drove slowly – He didn’t know the rush
and I had saved
my work and also my leisure,
For His Civility –
We pass the school, where the children stray
In Recess-in the Ring-
We pass the Observer Grain Fields –
We spent the setting sun –
Or rather – It happened to us –
The dews drew shudders and chills –
Only for Gossamer, my dress –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We stopped before a house that seemed
A swelling of the earth –
The roof was barely visible –
The Cornice – on the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
It feels shorter than day
I first assumed that the heads of the horses
They went to eternity
Emily Dickinson was an innovative and gifted American poet who wrote nearly 1,800 poems during her brief life between 1830 and 1886. Dickinson became publicly known as a poet only after her death because she chose to publish only a very small number of her poems, somewhere . between seven and twelve years, during her lifetime.
The life of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, into a well-known family. Her grandfather helped found Amherst College and her father, an attorney, served for many years in the Massachusetts legislature and the United States Congress. Dickinson had a brother a year older and a sister three years younger.
As a child and teenager, Dickinson made many friends, some of which lasted a lifetime, received her father’s approval and attention, and behaved appropriately for a girl during Victorian times. She received a classical education from Amherst Academy and was asked by her father to read the Bible. Although she attended church regularly for only a few years, her Christian foundation remained strong throughout her life.
Dickinson attended nearby Mount Holyoke College for only one year, due to numerous reasons, and then was brought back home by her brother, Austin. The Dickinson family lived in a house overlooking the city cemetery, where she is buried, for a few years before moving into the house her grandfather built, called “The Homestead.”
At her home in Amherst, Dickinson became a skilled housekeeper, cook, and gardener. She attended local events, made friends with some of her father’s acquaintances, and read various books given to her by her friends and her brother. Most of her books had to be smuggled into the house for fear her father would disapprove of them.
Emily Dickinson enjoyed the writings of an impressive list of contemporaries including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. She also read Victorians, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Thomas Carlyle, and George Eliot and the romantic poet Lord Byron. She also loved “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens. When she discovered Shakespeare, she asked: “Why is another book needed?” In her house he hung portraits of Eliot, Browning and Carlyle.
Dickinson became more reclusive in the 1850s. He began to write poems and received a favorable response from his friends. For the rest of his life he adopted the amicable practice of giving poems to his friends and bouquets from his garden. Her garden was so varied and manicured that she was better known as a gardener than as a poet.
During the Civil War years of the early 1860s, Emily Dickinson wrote more than 800 poems, the most prolific writing period of her life. During this period, Dickinson saw the death of several friends, a teacher, and the deteriorating health of her mother, whom she had to attend to closely. These sad events saddened Dickinson and led her to deal with the theme of death in many of her poems.
After the Civil War and for the remaining 20 years of his life, Dickinson rarely left The Homestead’s property lines. Her father, mother, and sister Lavinia lived with her at home, and her brother lived next door at The Evergreens with her wife, Susan, a longtime friend of Emily’s, and hers. children of her She enjoyed the company of her family and wrote frequently to her friends, but Amherst residents only knew her as the “woman in white” when they rarely saw her greet visitors.
After the deaths of several friends, a nephew, and his parents, Dickinson wrote fewer and fewer poems and stopped organizing them, as he had been doing for many years. She wrote that “the deaths have been too deep for me.” Dickinson developed kidney disease from which she suffered for the remaining two years of her life. The last short letter she wrote to her cousins read: “Little cousins, you called back. Emily.”
Characteristics of Dickinson’s poetry
Emily Dickinson’s sister, Lavinia, collected Emily’s poems and published them in 1890. Publishers changed some of their wording, punctuation, and capitalization to conform to a certain standard. Later editions restored Dickinson’s unique style and arranged them in a rough chronological order.
Emily Dickinson’s poems have many identifiable characteristics. Her poems have been memorized, enjoyed, and discussed since their first publication. Many critics consider her extraordinarily gifted in her ability to create concise, meaningful, and memorable poems.
The main themes of his poetry include Friends, Nature, Love, and Death. Not surprisingly, she also often refers to flowers in her poems. Many of the allusions in the poems to him come from his upbringing in the Bible, classical mythology, and Shakespeare.
Dickinson did not give his poems titles, an unusual feature. Others have given titles to some of his poems, and often the first line of the poem is used as the title.
She wrote short lines, preferring to be concise in her images and references. A study of her letters to friends and mentors shows that her prose style was made up of short iambic sentences, making her prose very similar to her poetry.
Dickinson’s poems are generally short, rarely exceeding six stanzas, as in “Because I could not stop for death”. Many of his poems have only one or two stanzas. The stanzas are quatrains of four verses. Some poems have stanzas of three or two lines.
The rhythm of many of his poems is called common meter or ballad meter. Both types of meter consist of a quatrain with the first and third lines having four iambic feet and the second and fourth lines having three iambic feet. The iambic foot is a two-syllable unit with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed.
In his quatrains, the rhyme scheme is usually abcb, where only the second and fourth lines rhyme. Such a rhythm scheme is typical for a ballad meter.
Many other poems are written in a meter typical of English hymns. This rhythm pattern is characterized by quatrains where lines one, two, and four are written in iambic trimeter and the third line is written in iambic tetrameter.
Often his rhymes are near rhymes or slant rhymes. A close rhyme means that the two rhyming words do not rhyme exactly. They only make a close match.
In Dickinson’s poems, capitalization and punctuation are unorthodox. He regularly capitalized nouns, but sometimes it was inconsistent and some nouns were not capitalized. For punctuation, he frequently used a hyphen in place of a comma or period, and sometimes used a hyphen to separate sentences within a line. Some editions of his poems have attempted to correct the punctuation of his poems.
A dozen or more composers have set Dickinson’s poems to music, including Aaron Copland, who produced “Twelve Songs on Poems by Emily Dickinson” in 1951. One of the interesting ways to treat some of Dickinson’s most famous poems, through Often learned in school, is to sing them to the tune of “Amazing Grace” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” or more humorously, the theme to “Gilligan’s Island.”
Cause I couldn’t stop for death
“Because I Couldn’t Stop Because of Death” is a brilliant poem, well constructed, easy to understand, and full of many poetic conventions. The first stanza often stands alone and represents one of the most inspired quatrains in American poetry.
In the first stanza, Dickinson has created a wonderful metaphor that carries through the poem. He has personified death, giving it a name, a mode of transportation, and a companion. The presence of Immortality in the carriage softens the idea of the arrival of Death. And the fact that he politely stopped is both a guarantee that his arrival was not unpleasant, and an expression of the poet’s ingenuity. It’s ironic in a humorous way to imagine Death being kind. The speaker of the poem is talking about an event that happened in the past, another guarantee that there is survival after death. Dickinson’s Christian vision of eternity and the immortality of life are evident in these stanzas.
The second stanza deals with slowly coming death as a result of illness, which Dickinson succumbed to late in life. Again, there is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Death, this time to his civility, which rhymes with “immortality” from the first stanza and links the two stanzas together. Notice that there are a couple of examples of alliteration, one on the first line with “know no” and one on the third line with “labor” and “leisure”.
The third stanza gives an image of the trip. Children and school on the front line refer to early life. The ripe grain fields in the third line refer to the middle stage of life. Finally, the setting sun in the fourth line refers to the final stage of life. Notice the use of anaphora to effectively unite all stages of life. The repetition of the phrase “we passed” at the beginning of lines is known as anaphora. There’s also a nice example of alliteration in the second line, “recess” and “ring”.
The fourth stanza contains two more examples of effective alliteration and creates the image of a person not appropriately dressed for a funeral. In fact, the chiffon dress is more like a wedding dress, representing a new beginning rather than an end. Also note the close rhyme in this stanza as well as several other stanzas. Interestingly, this stanza was not included in the first editions of Dickinson’s poems; however, it appears in all the most recent editions.
The tomb or tomb is described in the fifth stanza as a house. The description indicates that the poet feels comfortable with the place. The last stanza indicates that centuries have passed, although ironically it seems shorter than day. The “horses’ heads” are a comfortable alliteration and link the vision to the first stanza. The final word, “eternity”, which rhymes with “immortality” in the first stanza, also ties all the stanzas together and brings the poem to a quiet end.