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Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death


by Emily Dickinson

Stanza 4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 13

Or rather – He passed Us –

  • Quite literally, the sun passes her because it falls below the horizon. But, reading a little deeper into it, Dickinson suggests that maybe that's what death is like – the sun, light, and warmth leaving you to the cold darkness that is death.
  • Dickinson uses personification again as she refers to the sun. Why do you think that is? It seems the farther along in the journey they get, the farther from the living world they get. There are no other people or animals and it's getting dark. It's a little spooky at this point.
  • The fact that the adjustment, "or rather," is made after the stanza break only enhances the spookiness. The long pause between stanzas allows us to notice that the poem is about to make a shift away from the sunny ordinary day into something more grave (pun intended).

Lines 14-16

The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

  • "Gossamer" is used here to describe her gown as one of very thin and delicate material.
  • "Tippet" is an old-fashioned shawl or shoulder cape, and this one's made of "tulle," which is silky and thin like gossamer.
  • The dew of night is setting in because the sun has gone down. She's now getting chilly because she isn't wearing warm enough clothing. That thin tulle!
  • The fact that she is under-dressed for this journey also reflects that she is under-prepared. This stanza echoes what we discovered in the beginning line – this is not her choice and she was not planning this trip with Death.
  • Cold is something often associated with death in literature and in movies. Ever watch The Sixth Sense or read about the Dementors in Harry Potter books? So it's no coincidence that Dickinson is lowering the temperature on us here.

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