1. Using Literary Criticism Use an Internet search engine or sources in your college library to research how at least three literary critics have interpreted “[Because I could not stop for Death—].” Critics have read the speaker’s relationship to Death and her feelings about immortality in very different ways. Take notes on the critics’ arguments and assess their analyses of the poem’s language. Do you agree with one critic or another? Can you offer an alternative reading, or alternative evidence for a particular reading? Generate your own thesis about how to understand “[Because I could not stop for Death—]” and articulate it in relation to existing literary criticism on the poem. You might read “Using Research to Generate Topic and Thesis” in the “Writing about Literature” section of this website to help you get started.
2. Comparing Works Emily Dickinson evidently spent a great deal of time thinking about the nature of pain, dying, and death—she wrote many poems on this subject. Drawing from the selection of Dickinson’s poems in The Norton Anthology of American Literature or through research using your college library or an Internet search engine, read at least three of Dickinson’s other poems that treat the subject of death. Write an essay comparing “[Because I could not stop for Death—]” with these other poems, making an argument about her conception of death and immortality. Is it consistent across the poems? Does it seem to shift or vary in different poems? Or even within individual poems?
3. Short Response Read “[Because I could not stop for Death—]” as it appeared in its earliest published form (after Dickinson’s death), in the 1890 Poems, edited by Mabel Loomis Todd and T. W. Higginson. You’ll notice that Todd and Higginson assigned the poem the title “The Chariot,” regularized Dickinson’s punctuation, omitted a stanza, and changed many words.
4. Write a one- to two-page response paper about the differences between this poem and the version that appears in The Norton Anthology of American Literature. How is the poem changed by changes in punctuation? Changes in wording? What is the effect of leaving out stanza 4? Why do you think the 1890 editors might have made these alterations?
here is the poem
by emily Dickinson
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 played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible.
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ’tis centuries but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.