Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
The eternal date, the gentlemen with unmatched conduct! The speaker could barely spare any time for Death so death took pity on her and kindly stopped to greet and tag her along with him. The speaker climbed in Death’s carriage, which held just the two of them and Eternal Life.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
They drove the carriage quite slow and Death seemed to be in no hurry. Seeing Death’s courteous behaviour she put away all her work and pleasures. She wanted to appear respectful and devote time to him for his sensible conduct.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
They crossed a school, where children played during their break time, huddled in a circle. Then they passed fields of crops and the sun as it was setting.
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
The speaker then corrects herself by saying it was quite possible that instead of them passing the Sun, the Sun had probably passed them indicative of their lack of awareness. The night came and the dew formed. The speaker was feeling cold because she was wearing clothes not suited for the night. The night drawing, the sun setting, the cold enveloping her with Death for her company paints a sombre fatalistic picture of things to come.
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
They stopped before a house which was partly buried in the ground. The speaker could barely see the roof and the ceiling seemed to be in the ground.
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
The speaker then proceeds to state that since that day, centuries have passed yet it feels that the entire duration has been less than a day for her when compared to the day she understood that the carriage was headed towards a never-ending eternity.
The poem brilliantly explores the inevitability of death yet Emily Dickinson paints a hue of positivity with the vivid imagery that doesn’t fail to delight. The beauty of the poem lies in the ambiguity surrounding her existence. It is not clear to the reader as to whether the speaker is already dead or is headed towards death and the carriage journey is one last melody that she gets to enjoy. The comfort in death, the gateway from suffering has been subtly portrayed by Dickinson where Death has been portrayed as a considerate gentleman. The poem so soothing in appearance deceitfully hides its grim undertones.