Study Guide

Because I could not stop for Death Quotes

  • Mortality

    Because I could not stop for Death – (1)

    Death is introduced right away. We're also reminded that our time of death is not something we choose (at least that's what the poem claims), but something that is determined by forces beyond our control. This is also the start of the "why worry about things I cannot change?" attitude of the rest of the poem. There is no resistance to death, and no fear of it.

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste (5)

    Again, we're reminded that death is in control. He's in the driver's seat (literally). Also that death isn't always a quick thing. We are really shown the dying process in this poem and that, for the speaker, it was not a "life flashed before my eyes" kind of thing, but more like "my life crawled away slowly." The pace reflects the peace the speaker feels with death.

    We passed the Setting Sun – (12)

    Once the sun goes down, and death is lingering around, there's probably not a lot of hope for life left. Think of the sun setting as the symbolic closing of the eyes of the deceased. The lights are out, it's cold, and it won't be warming up. This is her final sunset.

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A Swelling of the Ground – (17-18)

    Well, this is the speaker's final resting place. The journey is over and their last stop is the grave. The speaker continues with the cool, calm, and collected approach to her death, and even seems hopeful by describing the grave as a house. Maybe she will finally feel at home there.

  • Immortality

    The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
    And Immortality. (3-4)

    The speaker knows this journey to death is also the beginning of the afterlife. So she believes she will continue a life, just not here on Earth. No wonder she's not freaking out.

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess – in the Ring –
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – (9-11)

    Children grow up and fields go dry – these are examples of things that won't last forever. As the speaker passes them, perhaps their transience reminds her of her soon-to-be immortality.

    Since then – 'tis Centuries – […] (21)

    Well, she's talking to us from somewhere, and it sure isn't Earth. We now have proof that she continued on somewhere after she died. "Centuries" is a really long time, so whatever afterlife it is (Heaven?) it's not a normal human life span, and we get a sense she'll live forever where she is now.

    Were toward Eternity – (24)

    If we were at all uncertain that the speaker was living forever in her new life, the last line really seals it. She tells us that her first feeling about the horses has been confirmed. Talk about a woman with spot-on intuition.

  • Spirituality

    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too, (6-7)

    Because the speaker is spiritually committed to dying and to what comes after death, she no longer worries about "earthly things."

    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – (11)

    Grain is mentioned in the Bible often, usually as a sign of prosperity and life. The fact that they are passing grain shows the speaker's journey away from health and life toward death. The spirit is usually thought to be free of the body in the afterlife, so no need for grain or any other food, for that matter. Hunger is a thing of the past! Though this poem is not explicitly written from a Christian perspective, this may be one hint as to the speaker's spiritual influences.

    The Roof was scarcely visible – (19)

    This is a classic example of spirituality and faith – the speaker does not need to see the whole thing to know it exists, she simply believes it.

    Were toward Eternity – (24)

    Immortality and spirituality often go hand-in-hand. They both tend to support the idea of something after this life on Earth. So, in order to think about eternity, the speaker had to have some faith that after her death there would be something more waiting for her.

  • Love

    He kindly stopped for me – (2)

    What a perfect gentleman Death is! He's so considerate to do for the speaker what she can't do for herself (start the dying process). This looks like the beginning of something special. OK, so maybe Death isn't the kind of guy you bring home to your family, especially if you like your family, nor is he someone you go on a second date with. But you'll have a darn pleasant one-and-only date together. It's pretty fun to picture him dressed up in a coat and tie (black, of course).

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste (5)

    She likes the fact that he's not some jerk who drives like a maniac. This is a pleasant drive, almost romantic. Can't you picture it? The sunset, the happy kids playing in the schoolyard. It would definitely set a girl at ease. She doesn't feel like he's putting her in danger, which is kind of ironic because he is ultimately going to kill her. But, you know, for the time being they're having a great time.

    For His Civility – (8)

    Death has really won the speaker over. It doesn't seem to take much to convince her that he's a gentleman – stopping for her, driving slowly and carefully. She definitely doesn't want to leave him, and she's given up all her worries to enjoy this ride.