Death has been a recurrent theme in Emily Dickinson’s poems. In the poem, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, too the poet weaves the words to portray the somber inevitability of human life. She uses symbolism throughout her work to create the ambience. The poet utilizes the character of Death in this poem as an extended metaphor. The poem goes on to delve deep into the nature of real death—the greatest truth of human nature. In this poem, the poet describes death as the final destination of life and explores symbolically how death caressingly guides one through the course of the journey of the journey to take that person to the resting place where he ought to be for eternity in perfect bliss. The mood of the poem is sinks into the innermost core of the hearts of the readers who are left o wonder about the universal truth of life—death. “Indeed, as readers will see by the close of the poem, perhaps by delivering reassurance of an afterlife, Dickinson’s attempt to reinforce one’s faith in God becomes a priority in this piece.”
At the very inception of the poem, Death is introduced to the readers as the protagonist. He is seen to be stopping for someone on the way. She writes, "Because I could not stop for Tom – / He kindly stopped for me" (Dickinson 1-2). Quite bizarrely, the poem at first seems to be like a meeting of two persons involved in an amorous relationship. Likewise, the poet continues to portray Death as a male suitor in the entire poem. The poet had an extremely pessimistic view of life and saw life as a wait for Death to come and take the soul away to the world unknown, away from the realm of mortality and human nature. The poet establishes Death as a human personality who represents the inevitable. She speaks of him saying, “We slowly drove—He knew no haste” (Dickinson 5) symbolizing the slow toll which death takes on an ailing individual who looks on to death quietly with serene eyes gradually accepting the impending departure. In the poem, Dickinson talks of the “civility” of Death. This symbolizes death to be courteous and genteel. This might signify that death is not that painful at the end. It seems as if Death caresses the soul and takes it away with him across the boundaries of the mortal world. The poet then uses the term “we” symbolizing that the two—Death and the individual—have united and the speaker is nearing the end. She goes on to say that Death has made her reach home, the ultimate resting place for the soul. This might actually mean that the speaker has already met with her demise and she now lies in her grave, in perfect bliss for eternity. “The poet embodied as a woman of her time will use her art to pluck not literal berries but metaphorical ones.”
The carriage in which Death carries the speaker to her final destination is a metaphor for the path though which we finally pass on to the realm of death. One may allude to Dante’s Inferno in which the eminent author had described how the souls got ferried into hell by a boat. The post may have also meant a hearse which is used to carry the coffin to the grave where the dead rests. The poet writes, “The Carriage held but just Ourselves— / And Immortality” (Dickinson 3-4). Immortality symbolizes death here, the unchangeable state which looms over every individual’s life. The carriage is simply the mode of transportation which assists human beings to the world of demise.
Dickinson uses sunset as a symbol which foreshadows death, the final call. She pens, “We passed the Setting Sun” (Dickinson 12) where the setting sun symbolizes the impending end of mortal self. The sun is symbolizing life and what looms is darkness, a cold realm of eternity—death. This sets the gloomy mood for the poem which makes a chill run down the shoulders of the readers.
The poet then goes on to talk about the last stop which is also the terminal resting place for the person. Here, she uses the house as a metaphor for the grave where the deceased body would lie for eternity in perfect peace. Dickinson emphasizes on the idea that the speaker accepts the inevitable and finds comfort in demise. She consciously avoids portraying the coffin as claustrophobic. A sense of calm prevails as she goes on to describe how the speaker finds difficulty in making out the resting place; it is simply a small rise in the ground. She portrays the house to be underground and thus symbolizes the grave.
Another symbol that she uses in the poem is the horses. In the closing couplet of the poem, the poet writes, “I first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity --” (Dickinson 23-24). The horses have led the speaker to traverse the entire journey being guided by Death and have made her reach her final destination, where she would meet her death—the state of eternity. Dickinson uses the notion of eternity as a symbol for death and the horses might signify destiny’s meandering course which leads us to the end.
Thus, the poet aptly creates her picture of life and expresses how our destiny actually culminates in demise. Every man is lead to death passing by the innumerable experiences of life. Transcending the transient world, only one truth attains eternity. Death guides the human soul to the next world, freeing it from the worldly experiences of emotions and pain. The individual finds solace in demise.
However pessimistic the theme of death may seem apparently, one does not fail to comprehend the germ of attaining peace and respite from the painful experiences which life offers through embracing death when it knocks at the door. It is actually a journey, away from the gazillion experiences, a mesh of sadness and happiness, to a realm where one is only offered peace and calm. It is the abode of bliss and serenity and the quintessential resting place till eternity.
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