Analysis of Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” by Emily Dickinson

Interpretation of the Poem

The poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” by Emily Dickinson, is about a speaker that seems to have died a long time ago. However, it is quite difficult to determine whether she is dead until the final stanza. Therefore, the speaker is probably a ghost or a spirit that reflects about the day she died. She does not lament about her death but is rather satisfied with it probably because she has been dead for a very long time, and as such, has come to terms with her death.  Besides, perhaps the contentment with the situation is because of her readiness to face death. Either way, she is utterly relieved and deliberates about that day warmheartedly. She remembers every detail concerning that fateful day, including the moment she got a cold, appearance of her grave, and how she felt after looking at the horse heads (Dickinson).

Analysis of Allegory Figures

Poet uses different literary devices in their poems to make them entertaining. Dickinson’s poem is not an exception as she uses several literary devices. Symbolism and allegory are two devices of poetry that Emily Dickinson uses throughout her poem.  The former refers to the use of symbols to signify ideas. On the other hand, events, characters, and places that contain a symbolic meaning often portray allegory. A form of symbolism is evident in stanza 3: Line 12 “We passed the Setting Sun.” In this case, Emily uses the sunset symbolically to predict her death (Dickinson).

Emily’s poem is allegorical. The various places illustrated in the poem as well as the personification of death are examples of symbols that make the poem allegorical. For example, Lines 9-13 illustrate how the speaker reflects about the major events that occur in her life before she dies. Lines 17 -20, harbor another example of allegory when the speaker describes “The cornice—in the Ground.” The cornice represents the speaker’s grave.  Another form of allegory is the title of the poem, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” It is an allegory since the speaker who is the protagonist or rather the main character was too busy to pass away.

The element of personification is also evident throughout the poem, for example, the speaker says, “He kindly stopped for me.” In this line, the concept of death is personified to represent a character. Moreover, in the narration of her experience with death and immorality, the speaker personifies both.  Her close encounter with Death and Immortality during the first stanzas makes the reader feel relieved when death is brought into perspective. However, as the poem unfolds, a sudden change of tone occurs after the reader realizes what death is all about.  The speaker personifies death by considering it as an ally.

            In the first stanza, the speaker invites death when she asserts, “he kindly stopped for me.”  The tone unveiled in this stanza denotes that the speaker has contended with the idea of death. The speaker also symbolizes the carriage ride to indicate her exit from life. She is riding with Death and Immortality.  She indicates her enthusiasm to accompany death when she asserts that she had “put away…labor and…leisure too for his civility”.  This statement also discloses that the speaker has accepted death. She has sacrificed everything in her life and agreed to ride with Death and Immortality. Had she failed to go willingly, they would have forcibly taken her. However, this does not change her perception about the two characters as being generous, caring and gentle (Johnson).

Other literary devices used by the speaker in the poem include metaphors, hyperbole paradox, and organization. Regarding the element of metaphor, the speaker says that Death picks her in a carriage. A hyperbole is illustrated in Stanza 6, “Since then- ’tis Centuries- and yet, Feels shorter than the Day.” In poetry, the element of hyperbole is usually an exaggerated statement that should not be taken literary.  Imagery is evident in stanza 5, “We paused before a house that seemed A swelling of the ground; the roof was scarcely visible, the cornice but a mound.”  In this case, the speaker wants the reader to create an image of the tombstones (Johnson).

Other literary devices used in the poem are paradox and organization. A paradox is evident when the speaker says that death stopped for her.  Regarding the element of organization, the poem is organized into six stanzas each composed of four sentences.  The poem does not follow a specific pattern. The rhyming words in the poem include “Me” which rhymes with “Immortality” and “Civility” with “Eternity.”


The poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” tells the story of a lady who passed away. It highlights her experience of dying and what happens after. She does not seem to regret having died. The poet, Emily Dickinson, employed different literary devices in creating the poem. Two of the devices that feature the most are allegory and symbolism. The two help the poet to deliver her message in an artistic manner that attracts the attention of the reader.


Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, 1960.

Johnson, Thomas H. Readings on Emily Dickinson. Ed. Bruno Leone. San Diego: Greenhaven,     1997