Emily Dickinson’s poem
1. How would you describe the speaker? What do you learn about her over the course of the poem?
2. Death appears as a character in this poem. How is he described? How does the speaker seem to feel about Death?
3. Besides Death, what other ideas or objects are personified in the poem?
4. What scenes does the speaker describe passing outside the carriage window? What does she notice?
5. What is the speaker wearing?
6. In stanza 5, the speaker and Death “pause” in front of a house. How does the speaker describe the house? Where do you think they are?
7. How long does the speaker’s carriage ride last? How does the final stanza change your sense of time’s progression?
8. Dickinson is famous for her unusual punctuation, especially her use of dashes. How did the dashes in the poem affect your reading and your sense of the poem’s meter?
9. What is your first impression of the tone of the poem? Is the speaker comfortable with dying?
1. How does the speaker seem to feel about Death “kindly stopping” for her in the first stanza? What is the significance of her claim that she “could not” stop for him? Is there irony in her use of the word “kindly”?
2. How active or passive is the speaker over the course of the poem? Does she exert any control over her own journey? When does she ascribe actions to “we,” and when to “he” (meaning Death or the Sun)?
3. What is the significance of the fact that the speaker first claims that the carriage holds “but just ourselves” (herself and Death), but then amends her representation in the very next line to include “Immortality” as a third passenger? What is the relationship between death and immortality in the poem?
4. In what ways does the speaker’s ride with Death resemble a kind of courtship or marriage?
5. Like most of Dickinson’s poetry, “[Because I could not stop for Death—]” is written in “ballad meter,” alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. Track the meter of the poem and note the shift that occurs in stanza 4. What is the significance of this irregularity? How might it serve to add emphasis to the shift in the speaker’s perception of her own situation as described this stanza?
6. What words or phrases are repeated in the poem? What is the effect of these repetitions, particularly the phrase “we passed” and the word “Ground,” which is used to rhyme with itself in stanza 5?
7. Like most of Dickinson’s poetry, “[Because I could not stop for Death—]” employs “slant rhyme,” or “imperfect rhyme” (words that share a final consonant sound or share the same vowel sounds with different consonant endings). Where do you see rhyme in the poem? Where does Dickinson make use of slant rhyme? To what effect?
8. What is the significance of the verb “surmised” in the final stanza? Is the speaker’s surmise also a surprise? How certain is she of her surmise? Is she comfortable, hopeful, or despairing is she about the direction of her journey?
9. Why does the poem end with the speaker claiming the carriage horses are headed “toward Eternity”? Are we supposed to understand her as already having reached eternity? Or is her journey ongoing?
Emily Dickinson’s poem
Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For his Civility—
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—
Or rather—He passed Us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—
We paused before a House that seemed
A swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—
Since then—’tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—