Poetics and Poetry Discussion
Velmar Pewee Hale Johnson
(3/7/2005 11:38:00 PM)
Because I could not stop for Death
by Emily Dickinson
Shy, sweet, innocent, with a heart for true adventure. Ms. Dickinson, was a lonely heart, who dared to dream of the path less walked. She, in her poem, was taking a walk on what would the dark side of Christianity. Bulking against faith, reaching out for that which is but an minuscule inch from her touch, lest not from her mind. Her inner self lived that which was in her heart, while she punished her outside self, by staying tucked away in a safe place. And thus she shares with us her dream of eternal peace which she longed for.
louis sacre croix
(2/22/2005 9:50:00 PM)
Death is personified as a gentleman caller or suitor. Thomas H. Johnson calls him 'one of the great characters of literature.' But exactly what kind of person is he?
Is Death a kind, polite suitor? The speaker refers to his 'kindness' and 'civility.' He drives her slowly; is this an expression of tact and consideration for her? If he is the courteous suitor, then Immortality, who is also in the carriage (or hearse) would be their chaperon, a silent one.
Is Death actually a betrayer, and is his courtly manner an illusion to seduce her? Because of his kindness in stopping for her, she agrees to go with him ('put away / My labor and my leisure too') . Is Death really cruel? She is not properly dressed for their journey; she is wearing only a gossamer gown and tulle tippet (gossamer: very light, thin cloth; tulle: a thin, fine netting used for veils, scarfs, etc.; tippet: covering for the shoulders) . Is Immortality really an accomplice to Death's deception?
The drive symbolizes her leaving life. She progresses from childhood, maturity (the 'gazing grain' is ripe) and the setting (dying) sun to her grave. The children are presented as active in their leisure ('strove') . The images of children and grain suggest futurity, that is, they have a future; they also depict the progress of human life. Is there irony in the contrast between her passivity and inactivity in the coach and their energetic activity?
The word 'passed' is repeated four times in stanzas three and four. They are 'passing' by the children and grain, both still part of life. They are also 'passing' out of time into eternity. The sun passes them as the sun does everyone who is buried. With the sun setting, it becomes dark, in contrast to the light of the preceding stanzas. It also becomes damp and cold ('dew grew quivering and chill') , in contrast to the warmth of the preceding stanza. Also the activity of stanza three contrasts with the inactivity of the speaker in stanzas four and five. They pause at the grave. What is the effect of describing it as a house?
In the final stanza, the speaker has moved into death; the language becomes abstract; in the previous stanzas the imagery was concrete and specific. What is Dickinson saying about death or her knowledge of death with this change? The speaker only guesses ('surmised') that they are heading for eternity. Why does she have to guess? She has experienced life, but what does she specifically know about being dead? And why didn't death tell her? If eternity is their goal, can Immortality be a passenger? Or is this question too literal-minded?
Why does Dickinson change from past tense to present tense with the verb 'feels' (line 2, stanza 6) ? Does eternity have an end?
In this poem, exclusion occurs differently than it does in 'The soul selects her own society' Here the speaker is excluded from activities and involvement in life; the dead are outside 'the ring' of life. As you read Dickinson's poems, notice the ways in which exclusion occurs and think about whether it is accurate to characterize her as the poet of exclusion.
(2/20/2005 5:36:00 AM)
First, what do you know about ED? She was a funny girl – didn’t get out of the house enough (if hardly at all…) . Her family was got hit by the wave of Christianity which required a ‘conversion experience’ - a vision thing usually associated with becoming a monk or a nun. But her Dad, Mum and sister all ‘saw’ God, angels - the full monty, and she didn’t. Which made her feel left out, a bit. She fell in love, it seems, with a vicar, who was quite a bit older than her, not in love with her, and married. They corresponded for around eight years, until he left the area.
This rather upset her - looks like she was reading more into it than there really was. An emotional young woman (about 20) , well educated for that time, she used her schooling to put down her feelings in the form of verse, writing at night and probably in secret.
You can see all this in the poems: she felt she had missed something in not having the visions of ‘sanctification’ which her family and their friends claimed, and instead had her own mysteries, which she referred to as a 'golden dream'.
This is bit from one of her letters to a friend:
Where do you think I've strayed, and from what new errand returned? I have come from 'to and fro, and walking up, and down' the same place that Satan hailed from, when God asked him where he'd been, but not to illustrate futher I tell you I have been dreaming, dreaming a golden dream, with eyes all the while wide open, and I guess it's almost morning, and besides I have been at work, providing the 'food that perisheth, ' scaring the timorous dust, and being obedient, and kind. I call it kind obedience in the books the Shadows write in, it may have another name. (L 36)
See what I mean?
The poem you’re looking at is an example of this – since no-one published her work when she was alive, it’s not wasy tpo tell when she wrote this, but its probably middle period – number 712 I think I saw somewhere (she knocked out 1800 all told – a few too many for most of us…) .
So, it’s a fantasy about the path to eternity – not necessarily the heaven of her family’s religion. She pretends to dream about death –personifies him as ‘Civil’ gentleman, and rides to see the ‘other’ life – dressed as some kind of fairy. The day goes by, and she sees what I take to be a tomb or grave stone (the buried house image) , and conclude with the fact that death’s horses carry you to the ‘everlasting’.
Fairly typical ED – a bit of a dream, a bit of whimsy, a fairy some nature and death. Another 1799 await you, Sam.
Good luck with ‘em.