Because I could not stop for Death

Albeit a sombre subject, this poem is rather reassuring.  It is presented in terms of a well-mannered gentleman taking a lady out for a leisurely drive; the funeral cortege passes familiar places and, in the setting sun, they pause at the place of burial before peacefully travelling on towards eternity.  The passing years have no manifest impact on them; this idea appears in the earlier (1861) poem, ‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –‘.   I find myself wondering what type of coach are they travelling in.  Since the persona, Death and Immortality may be inside the coach, one might ask whether there is an unmentioned coachman aka G-d?

Because I could not stop for Death —

He kindly stopped for me —    The language and tone suggest that not only is Death personified, he is also, ironically, genteel and considerate!

The Carriage held but just Ourselves —  The feeling of an intimate personal experience is enhanced by the extensive use of the first person (‘We’, ‘I’, ‘Ourselves’, ‘Us’, ‘My’)

and Immortality.    They are not alone.  The placement of this word, the last in the verse, has a dramatic impact on the meaning of death; death is not final, immortality is.  

We slowly drove — He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,   The persona has renounced all earthly activity – metaphorically presented in domestic terms.

For His Civility —    The lady courteously complies

We passed the School, where children strove    It is worth noting that this is in the past tense: the dead do not see struggle.

At Recess — in the Ring —

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —    The verse moves from youth, in the first line, to a metaphorical portrayal of maturity in this visual personification.

We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —

The Dews drew quivering and chill —    The symbolic passing of day exposes the persona’s physical vulnerability …

For only Gossamer, my Gown  —    … presented through the alliterated combination of insubstantial materials and the clothing imagery and cape and gown.

My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed    The place of burial is momentary – not final.

a Swelling of the Ground —

The Roof was scarcely visible —    The place of burial having architectural features, such as roof and cornice, appears in ‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers — Dickinson’s imagery reverberates through her poetry.

The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads    Analysis of this synecdoche reveals its extraordinary effectiveness: it encapsulates the infinite within an everyday visual reality.

were toward Eternity —

My Dickinson main page has information on other sites and commentary on recurring features in Dickinson’s poetry.

You also may wish to view Professor Nick Courtright’s short youtube interpretation.


Please go to the Dickinson tab for the  drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following:

Poems A-G

Poems H-J

Poems K-Z


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