Example research essay topic: Illustrating The Use Of Death As A Theme In Poetry – 1,887 words

The poets of the nineteenth century wrote on a
variety of topics. One often used topic is that of
death. The theme of death has been approached in
many different ways. Emily Dickinson is one of the
numerous poets who uses death as the subject of
several of her poems. In her poem “Because I Could
Not Stop for Death,” death is portrayed as a
gentleman who comes to give the speaker a ride to
eternity. Throughout the poem, Dickinson develops
her unusual interpretation of death and, by doing
so, composes a poem full of imagery that is both
unique and thought provoking.

Through Dickinsons
precise style of writing, effective use of
literary elements, and vivid imagery, she creates
a poem that can be interpreted in many different
ways. The precise form that Dickinson uses
throughout “Because” helps convey her message to
the reader. The poem is written in five quatrains.
The way in which each stanza is written in a
quatrain gives the poem unity and makes it easy to
read. “I Could Not Stop for Death” gives the
reader a feeling of forward movement through the
second and third quatrain. For example, in line 5,
Dickinson begins deaths journey with a slow,
forward movement, which can be seen as she writes,
“We slowly drove-He knew no haste.” The third
quatrain seems to speed up as the trinity of
death, immortality, and the speaker pass the
children playing, the fields of grain, and the
setting sun one after another. The poem seems to
get faster and faster as life goes through its

In lines 17 and 18, however, the poem
seems to slow down as Dickinson writes, “We paused
before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the
Ground-.” The reader is given a feeling of life
slowly ending. Another way in which Dickinson uses
the form of the poem to convey a message to the
reader occurs on line four as she writes, “And
Immortality.” Eunice Glenn believes that the word
“Immortality” is given a line by itself to show
its importance (qtd. in Davis 107). Perhaps the
most notable way in which Dickinson uses form is
when she ends the poem with a dash. Judith Farr
believes that the dash seems to indicate that the
poem is never ending, just as eternity is never
ending (331). In conclusion, Dickinsons form helps
the reader begin to comprehend the poem.
Figurative language is one of the literary
elements that Dickinson uses to help convey hidden
messages to the reader.

Alliteration is used
several times throughout the poem. An example of
alliteration occurs in lines 9 through 12: We
passed the School, where Children strove At
Recess-in the Ring- We passed the Fields of Gazing
Grain- We passed the Setting Sun- Alliteration is
used four times in the third quatrain alone.
Bettina Knapp states that, “the
alliterations…depict a continuity of scenes,
thereby emphasizing the notion of
never-endingness.” Another type of figurative
language that is used is repetition. The first
instance of repetition occurs in lines 9, 11, and
12 as she writes, “We passed” three times. The
speaker in the poem is passing through everything
that she has already lived through, thus giving
the reader a sense of life going by. Another
instance of repetition occurs in the fourth
stanza. Dickinson repeats the word “ground” in
lines 18 and 20 to help remind the reader that she
is describing a grave, not a house.

language is also used as Dickinson creates two
instances of perfect rhyme. The first time perfect
rhyme is used is in lines 2 and 4 with the rhyming
of the words “me” and “immortality.” The second,
and last, time perfect rhyme is used is in lines
18 and 20 as she repeats the word “ground.” All in
all, Dickinsons use of figurative language
contributes to the meaning of the poem. Another
literary element that Dickinson uses in her poem
is tone, which is used to help create the general
mood of the poem. It is interesting to note that
her tone in regards to death contrasts with that
of her time period. Farr states that the people of
Dickinsons era looked at death as being “a
skeletal marauder-thief with a scythe and a
grimace” (329). Society in the 1800s viewed death
as being morbid and evil.

Dickinson, on the other
hand, made death into being pleasant. She portrays
death as being a kind gentleman, perhaps even a
suitor, who is taking her out for a ride in a
carriage. The imagery in “Because” assists in the
creation of a pleasant tone. Dickinson describes
children playing, which also gives the poem a more
affable mood. Another way in which Dickinson makes
death a more agreeable subject for the reader is
in the fifth quatrain as she compares the grave to
a house. In line 17, she writes, “We paused before
a House.” As she does so, the reader gets the
image of a young lady being dropped off at her
home by her suitor.

However, as Dickinson goes on
to write in line 18, “A Swelling of the Ground-,”
the reader is reminded that it is actually a grave
that she is being taken to. Her grave is also
portrayed as a house in lines 19 and 20 as she
writes, “The Roof was scarcely visible- / The
Cornice-in the Ground.” The cornice can be viewed
as being either the ornamental roofing around the
speakers house, or as the molding around her
coffin. By comparing the grave to a house,
Dickinson helps to lighten the tone of the
graveyard scene. The only time when Dickinson does
give the reader a true sense of mortality is as
the sun passes the speaker. She portrays the sense
of mortality is in lines 12 and 13 as she writes,
“We passed the Setting Sun- / Or rather-He passed
Us-.” Dickinsons effective creation of a pleasant
tone is seen throughout “Because.” Dickinson uses
the final literary element of symbolism to help
the reader to understand the meaning that she is
trying to convey. The carriage is symbolic of a
hearse and carries the speaker, who is symbolized
as humanity, and her suitor, who is symbolized as

The two characters create the third
passenger of the carriage, who is immortality.
Their carriage ride is also symbolic of time,
since, like time, it moves slowly. The speaker
looks outside of the carriage and sees children
playing games in a ring, which symbolizes her
looking back on memories of her childhood. The
children can also serve as a symbol of human life.
Next, she sees fields of gazing grain, which
symbolize her looking back on her adulthood and
maturity. The gazing grain can also be viewed as a
symbol of the inanimate parts of life. Finally,
she sees the setting sun pass the carriage, which
symbolizes either old age or death by showing that
she is beyond mortal time. Even though most
readers would see the suitor as being symbolic of
death, Charles R.

Anderson sees the suitor, death,
as standing in place of God. He writes, “Death, to
be sure, is not the true bridegroom but a
surrogate…He is the envoy taking her on this
curiously premature wedding journey to the
heavenly altar where she will be married to God”
(qtd. in Davis 117). Symbols give the poem a
deeper outlook on death, eternity, and
immortality. Even though Dickinsons style of
writing is concise and to the point, she is able
to use many vivid images to paint an everlasting
picture in the readers mind. Each image that she
uses builds upon the other images.

The first image
that the reader sees is that of a carriage picking
up the speaker, which is depicted in lines 1 and 2
as Dickinson writes, “Because I could not stop for
Death- / He kindly stopped for me. ” As the
speaker looks outside of the carriage, she
broadens the picture by describing what she sees
around her. Her first description is of children
playing games in a ring. It moves on to describe
the fields of grain she is riding through. Another
image that is seen is that of the setting sun. In
the fourth quatrain, she describes the speakers
light form of dress in detail.

She does so in
lines 15 and 16 as she writes, “For only Gossamer,
my Gown-, My Tippet-only Tulle-.” Through the
image of gossamer, the reader can see the fine,
flimsy cloth that her gown is made of. The way in
which Dickinson presents the speakers tippet
allows the reader to receive the mental picture of
a “bridal veil” (qtd. in Davis 117), as Anderson
interprets it to be. Next, Dickinson paints a
picture of a house, but still reminds the reader
that it is actually a grave that she is
describing. The final image in the poem is that of
the horses heads looking toward eternity. Knapp
believes that the final image allows the speakers
view to broaden from inside of the carriage to the
rest of the outside world (94).

Thus, the reader
is given a broader image than what he has yet
experienced in the poem. Now, the reader is left
with the image of eternity. The number of images
lessen as the poem draws on. The reader is given a
feeling of the speaker dying as the images lessen.
Dickinsons use of imagery is a perfect example of
a picture painting a thousand words. “I Could Not
Stop for Death” can be interpreted in many
different ways. The first interpretation deals
with the Christian view of death and immortality.
In the Christian view of death, a person dies and
goes on to a better place to live forever.

a persons life, time means everything, but once a
person dies and enters eternity, time is
irrelevant. The irrelevancy of time can be seen as
Dickinson writes in lines 21 and 22, “Since
then-tis Centuries-and yet / Feels shorter than
the Day.” In another interpretation of the poem,
death is viewed as being her suitor. He is
described as being a kind gentleman taking her for
a ride in a carriage. Her marriage to her suitor
represents her marriage to God. Additionally, the
poem can be understood as being a short biography
of her life. As the speaker passes her childhood,
she brings back memories of the happy and normal
part of her life.

However, as she comes upon her
maturity, the sun passes her, which represents
life passing her. The biographical interpretation
of the poem is best summed up in the words of
Anderson as he writes, “She was borne confidently,
by her winged horse, toward Eternity in the
immortality of her poems” (qtd. in Davis 118). In
other words, she was confident that, when she
died, her poems would live on. The poem has left a
conflict among scholars who have interpreted the
poem in many ways. Dickinsons imagery and
effective use of the basic elements of poetry has
produced a poem with several different meanings.
Her conception of death and how she portrays it in
“Because” exposes the readers mind to a variety of
ideas about death.

Surely, after reading the poem,
the reader could never view death in a singular
way again. Poetry at its best leaves the reader
with new ideas about the topic at hand. As a
result of the writing of the poets of the
nineteenth century, readers are given many
different ways of regarding various aspects of

Research essay sample on Illustrating The Use Of Death As A Theme In Poetry