A five-page stanza-by stanza analysis of the structure, theme, character development, symbolism, irony, paradox, personification, imagery, punning, biblical allusions, foreshadowing, understatement, and anaphora (repetition of words at the beginning of a string of sentences) in this most popular of Dickinson’s poems.
The handout, which has blanks that your students can fill in, is suitable as an in-class activity or for homework.
Since the words for the blanks are almost exclusively drawn from “Because I could not stop,” not the paraphrasing of it by commentators, my handout fosters close reading.
Difficult vocabulary items are defined in the context of the poem. Also the handout examines specific problems which some students have with the syntactic ambiguity of “Because I could not stop,” specifically Dickinson’s elliptical style, nontraditional capitalization, and unconventional use of dashes.
A three-page Answer Key (with commentary on the answers) is provided, beginning on a separate page.
Additionally, not as part of the student handout, I have included background notes on Dickinson’s importance in American literature; the principal areas of contrast between her and her contemporary poet Walt Whitman; major biographical events which influenced her poetry; her major poetic themes; and characteristic aspects of her poetic style.
You may wish to incorporate some of these points into your class’s discussion of “Because I could not stop for Death.”
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph. D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.