Emily Dickinson’ s poem “ Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is full of activity, motion, and change. The narrator passes things as they drive by, the landscape around her changes. At the same time, she sees that life continues outside her window – there are children playing, wheat growing, winds and weather at work. The children were seen playing in the schoolyard that is passed upon this journey symbolize the continuation of life even in the face of death. She tells us that the “ children strove” (9), indicating that they were not finished with their toil and play as the speaker now is, thus presenting a strong contrast between the activity of life and the passive observation of death as the speaker passes silently by. This idea of the activity of life contrasted with the inactivity of death is also supported by the “ fields of gazing grain” (11) that symbolize growth and gain. “ She sees children playing in a schoolyard; she sees a field of ripe wheat or corn, and then she sees a sunset. No doubt, Dickinson deliberately chose these particular images to represent three stages of life— childhood, adulthood, and old age. The reader is also reminded of the claim that during the process of the soul leaving the body, one sees one’ s ‘ life pass before one’ s eyes’ ” (Grimes, 2007). Rather than the terrifying moment of death phrases like ‘ see my life pass before my eyes’ tend to evoke, the narrator’ s experience here passes by slowly, with the gentle speed of the carriage, allowing her to savor the memories and the time. Imagery also plays a large role in the peace and serenity of the poem despite the topic. In her description of her pleasant ride, Dickinson depicts a quiet slow ride through the countryside with nothing to frighten her or make her uncomfortable. Her companions are gentle and courtly and she is expected to do nothing but sit and relax, having “ put away / My labor, and my leisure too” (6-7). Although carriages are no longer a common experience, everyone today has, at one time or another, had the experience of simply riding in a car, with no other activity to do but watch out the windows.
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