Personification and Figurative Language in Because I Could Not Stop for Death (2023)

A huge majority of the poets that lived during the nineteenth century often wrote on an assortment of topics and subject matters. A common topic that featured in most of these poems is death. Different authors chose different approaches when broaching or presenting enigmatic theme. In the list of poets who expertly exploited this theme to bring forth the poignancy of death is none other than Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-86). Several of her poems feature death as she was to some extent, obsessed with death and the mystery that it was wrapped in. In an attempt to understand death and its complexities, she became prolific at churning out poems that had death at their epicenter, taking many forms and shapes (Bouson2). One such work is Because I Could Not Stop for Death, a lyrical poem, where the theme of death is ubiquitous and starts from the very name of the poem. For the purpose of this, the analysis will center on personification and figurative as used by Dickinson in Because I Could Not Stop for Death and the purpose of the stylistic devices used.

The poem is littered with traces of personification from its very start. Contrary to the expectation of many, the personification of death does not take a bloodcurdling form as is common with the majority of writers who refer to death as the eerie “grim reaper” or the angel of death. In the poem, death is elucidated as a cordial companion, almost like a suitor for the persona(Dickinson and Brownell25). He visits her as she goes on with her daily routine. From the poem, death is said to take the woman for a pleasant carriage ride as young lovers so often do. It is clear from her description of the ride that she has no objections towards it and seems to be enjoying it. Death even goes to the extent of bringing along another passenger (Immortality) who acts as a chaperone for the couple. He makes sure that they do not visit any area that has the potential of being scary or with supernatural qualities that the persona is not used. Such actions are taken to ensure that she is comfortable throughout the whole ride and there is nothing that vexes her and ensures that they pass by regular sites such as a schoolyard. Death here takes the human form of a perfect gentleman who knows how to treat a lady in the most courteous way. From the first two lines, death is described as a well-mannered and cultured gentleman;

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me,

The Carriage held but just Ourselves,

(Video) 'Because I Could Not Stop For Death' by Emily Dickinson - IGCSE English Literature

And Immortality,

We slowly drove – He knew no haste,

And I had put away,

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –(“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson” line 1 to 6)

(Video) How to Analyse a Poem - Because I could not stop for the Death by Emily Dickinson

Death here takes the form of a civilized individual, ready to ensure that the lady who he is with is well taken care of. In essence, death has taken a human form that now allows it to have a one on one interaction with the persona.

In terms of the use of figurative language, the poem makes use of metaphors to increase its appeal. In particular, the character of Death is used by Dickinson as an extended metaphor to evaluate its depth. The poem starts with a metaphor when the persona says she cannot stop for death, to mean that she too is not ready for death (“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson” lines 1 and 2). Death is a phenomenon that more often than not catches human beings off guard; no one is ever ready to die. Even when fully aware that she is riding with death in a carriage, she does not disclose this information to the tourists and does not divulge any information to the strangers. Additionally, during the early 19th century, it was unheard of and utterly unacceptable for a woman to be in the presence of another man who was not either her husband or a close family member. The persona in the poem sees it fit to travel with Death, who is not the husband, but someone she has just met and decides to take a trip with him. Along the way, Immortality joins the due, but the persona chooses not to focus on him, but Death (“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson” lines 3-4). The personal also explains that the carriage is getting slower and slower (“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson line 5). In this case, the metaphor of speed might have been used to indicate that the persona is already dead and the carriage transformed into a hearse. Similarly, the slow speed might be an indication that she is in a funeral procession and the vehicle carrying her body the first one. It is the civility that Death exudes that eventually makes the lady travel with him;

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

(Video) Day 3: "Because I could not stop for Death"

For His captivity– (Dickinson lines 3-6)

The metaphors used here seem to imply that the woman is ready to now forfeit her leisure to travel with Death, who she is not quite familiar with. Death uses his calm temperament and good demeanor to convince her to ride with him.

In the poem, imagery is also used to expertly by the author to create a description that is quite vivid. It is through imagery that we get a mental picture of where the persona travels through and what she sees while on her last detour. Occurrences that she often overlooked in the past are now described in great detail as she saw them. It is during this time that she notices the little children playing, wheat on the farm and the setting of the sun(“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson” lines 9 to 12). Furthermore, the children playing outside can symbolize eternity, the wheat the natural world while the setting of the sun represents the end of life for a human being so as to enter a new realm. The persona describes how “he passed her” to indicate that the carriage might still be moving at a slow speed as the travel the whole day until the dusk (“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson” lines 13 to 16)Symbolism is also used in the poem in reference to the end of her life. For instance, the use of a “drive” seems to indicate that the persona is leaving life on earth (Ferlazzo15). Through her journey, a systematic change is observed. She progresses from a stage of childhood to a point of maturity when the “gazing grain” becomes ripe and the sun symbolizing her death.

In conclusion, the notion of man’s mortality and death has often posed a philosophical question that has been quite difficult to answer. In trying to decipher death and is nature, the poet Emily Elizabeth Dickinson in Because I Could Not Stop for Death makes use of a plethora of stylistic devices, personification and figurative language included, to compose a unique poem. She manages to describe death in a rather unusual manner that is simply thought provoking to say the least. It is through Dickinson’s concise style of poem writing and her effective use of the various literary elements found in poetry that allows her to create a superb poem that is one of a kind.

Works Cited

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death – (479) by Emily Dickinson.”Poetry Foundation,

(Video) Day 1: "Because I could not stop for Death"


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What is the personification of Because I Could Not Stop for Death? ›

This is specifically shown in lines 1 and 2 “Because I could not stop for Death‐ He kindly waited for me‐.” This is personification because death cannot literally stop to wait for someone. Dickinson portrays that death acts like a person waiting for her to join.

What is the death or he personified to how does the personification of death affect the meaning of the poem? ›

Answer and Explanation: We see Death personified in "Because I could not stop for Death" at the very beginning of the poem. In stanza one, the speaker notes that since she is too busy to stop for death, "He kindly stopped for me." That phrasing gives human characteristics to death in a couple of ways.

What types of figurative language are in Because I Could Not Stop for Death? ›

In Emily Dickinson's poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death, she uses various types of figurative language and imagery (personification, metaphor, and symbol) to portray the idea that death is not a dreadful event, but actually a pleasant experience.

What is personified in the first two lines of Because I Could Not Stop for Death? ›

In Emily Dickinson's poem 'Because I could not stop for Death', the author personifies death, portraying him as a close friend, or perhaps even a gentleman suitor. In the first stanza, she reveals that she welcomes death when she says, “He kindly stopped for me”.

What is one example of personification from the poem? ›

A figure of speech in which the poet describes an abstraction, a thing, or a nonhuman form as if it were a person. William Blake's “O Rose, thou art sick!” is one example; Donne's “Death, be not proud” is another.

Is death an example of personification? ›

Death is frequently imagined as a personified force. In some mythologies, a character known as the Grim Reaper (usually depicted as a berobed skeleton wielding a scythe) causes the victim's death by coming to collect that person's soul.

What does the personification of death show? ›

As a personification, death is portrayed as a person with human characteristics. The anthropomorphic features of death are represented in the physical appearance of death, for example a human skeleton, performing human activities. Death can be given a gender, clothing, personality and voice.

What is the effect of the personification used in the sentence? ›

In effect, personification adds life, energy, and an element of relatability to things that would otherwise be lifeless. This technique is utilised heavily in poetry, and features commonly in figurative descriptive language.

What figurative language is used? ›

Figurative language is a way of expressing oneself that does not use a word's strict or realistic meaning. Common in comparisons and exaggerations, figurative language is usually used to add creative flourish to written or spoken language or explain a complicated idea.

What figurative language is being used to describe death? ›

Lost. “Losing” someone may be the most common metaphor for death. When someone we love dies, we feel like we've “lost” a part of ourselves.

Which is the main types of figurative language used in the poem? ›

Similes, metaphors, and personification are three of the most frequently used forms of figurative language in poetry, and they are used to create mental associations between the concrete and the abstract to form one big picture.

What was the first personification of death? ›

Thanatos — Greece

One of the first personifications of death comes from Greek mythology. Thanatos' name comes from θνῄσκω (thnēskō), meaning “to die,” and he is the son of Nyx (the Night) and Erebus (the Darkness), as well as the twin brother of Hypnos (Sleep).

How is death personified in the poem Death be not proud? ›

The speaker treats death like a person who is considered "mighty" and "dreadful," which is personification. And, he addresses this person-like Death directly, even though Death obviously can't respond, which is apostrophe.

What is one purpose of the personification in this poem? ›

By using personification, poets are able to provide readers with information that can help them comprehend abstract ideas. If a poet personifies an abstraction, such as an emotion, they can create a mental image that steers readers toward an understanding as to the purpose of that emotion within the work.

Which is an example of personification answers? ›

Personification is a poetic literary device in which non-living things are given human traits. The most common example of personification is when we describe the wind as blowing, or the sun is shining.

What are 10 examples of personification? ›

50 Examples of Personification
  • Justice is blind and, at times, deaf.
  • Money is the only friend that I can count on.
  • The cactus saluted any visitor brave enough to travel the scorched land.
  • Jan ate the hotdog despite the arguments it posed to her digestive system.
  • The world does not care to hear your sad stories.

What are some examples of personification in figurative language? ›

An example of personification is, “The sun greeted me when I woke up in the morning.” The sun is a non-human object but has been given human characteristics since greetings can only be performed by living creatures. Other examples of personification include: April is the cruelest month of the year.

What is the best example of personification in the poem? ›

In the line "Then Cruelty knits a snare", cruelty has been endowed with human traits, that is, the human practice of knitting. Thus it is an example of personification.

What is personification give two examples? ›

Personification gives human traits and qualities, such as emotions, desires, sensations, gestures and speech, often by way of a metaphor. Personification is much used in visual arts. Examples in writing are "the leaves waved in the wind", "the ocean heaved a sigh" or "the Sun smiled at us".

Where is personification in the poem? ›

Personification is a poetic device where animals, plants or even inanimate objects, are given human qualities – resulting in a poem full of imagery and description. Consider the first stanza of Jackie Kay's poem Way Down below in the Streets of Paris: I spied a small lonely boy.

What are names for personifications of death? ›

It's the Grim Reaper, Hel, Thanatos, La Muerte, Psychopomp, Shinigami, aka the personification of death that has haunted folklore and literature since death was a thing.

How does Dickens use personification? ›

Dickens often uses personification to assign human characteristics to things in the counting house. In this way, he portrays elements of the world of A Christmas Carol as reflections of Scrooge's character or agents that hint at ghostly events to come.

Why does Dickens use personification? ›

And one thing they usually agree on is that Dickens uses personification so that the setting will amplify something essential about the characters, deepening the reader's understanding and emotional reaction.

What are three examples of personification explain each example? ›

Personification gives human traits and qualities, such as emotions, desires, sensations, gestures and speech, often by way of a metaphor. Personification is much used in visual arts. Examples in writing are "the leaves waved in the wind", "the ocean heaved a sigh" or "the Sun smiled at us".

How does personification add to the mood of the story? ›

You can direct empathy and emotion. Readers will empathize with the personification of a non-human object in the story and experience a character's feelings towards it. This will help you highlight and explain a character's relationship with an item, an animal, or even an idea or abstract thing.

How do you know if a sentence is personification? ›

Personification is a figure of speech that attributes human nature and characteristics to something that is not human—whether living or nonliving. When the wind howls, when pastries tempt, when the sun smiles, and when stars wink; these are all personifications.

What are 3 example of figurative language? ›

Her head was spinning from all the new information. The toast jumped out of the toaster. I'm so hungry I could eat a horse. The Sea lashed out in anger at the ships, unwilling to tolerate another battle.

What are the 4 figurative language? ›

Authors use similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification to make their stories more interesting.

What are 12 examples of figurative language? ›

12 Types of Figurative Language
  • Metaphor. A metaphor makes a direct comparison between two things to point out how they are similar. ...
  • Simile. ...
  • Idiom. ...
  • Metonymy. ...
  • Synecdoche. ...
  • Hyperbole. ...
  • Personification. ...
  • Assonance.
Aug 16, 2022

How is alliteration used in Because I could not stop for Death? ›

Technically speaking, alliteration is first used in the /h/ sounds of line 5—"He knew no haste"—but it's the next example that seems more significant. In line 7, the speaker relates how she "put away" her "labor" and "leisure," in part because Death was so "kindly" and civil towards her.

What figurative language is used in Death Be Not Proud? ›

John Donne's sonnet, ''Death Be Not Proud'', employs numerous literary devices, including personification, alliteration, and metaphor. Throughout the sonnet, three metaphors are used.

What is a personification in figurative language? ›

Personifying an object means figuratively describing it with human traits in order to craft a vivid image of that object in your reader's mind.

What is a metaphor in figurative language? ›

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn't literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.

What are similes metaphors and personification? ›

A metaphor occurs when a word or phrase is applied to an object or action in a way that cannot be taken literally. A simile is a comparison between two dissimilar objects that uses the word "like" or "as." Lastly, personification is when a comparison applies human attributes to something nonhuman.

What are three personification? ›

It's pretty common for people to give things human qualities that aren't actually human. Some of the most commonly used examples of personification in speech include: My alarm clock yells at me in the morning to wake up. The wind howled last night.

How is death personified in this sonnet? ›

Another personification appears in line 11 when the poet writes “Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade.” Here, the poet portrays death as a figure who meanders around his “shade.” The act of equating death to a human being shows that his beloved transcends all living creatures and even acts of nature.

Where did the personification of death come from? ›

One of the earliest personifications of death was in Greek mythology and the god Thanatos. The idea of death has been personified in many books and films, most commonly as a human-like figure called the Grim Reaper, sometimes also called the Angel of Death.

Why does the author use personification in the first paragraph of the text? ›

Personification is a literary technique that gives human characteristics to inanimate objects or non-living things that would otherwise not experience emotions, or other human responses to events. The purpose of this is to increase the reader's interest in the story and keep his or her attention.

What is the personification of death in Emily Dickinson? ›

Emily Dickinson personified death in the poem “Because I could not stop for Death” by representing death as a person. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me;” In this poem the speaker is communicating as someone who as seen both sides of life,the real life and after life.

What is the personification of death called? ›

In modern-day European-based folklore, Death is known as the Grim Reaper, depicted as wearing a dark hooded cloak and wielding a scythe.

What is the metaphor in because I couldn't stop for death? ›

Dickenson's last element is metaphor. The poem as a whole is a metaphor. She is slowly taken to her death in a carriage and death is the driver. She compares what real death might be like to the journey that we take to our final resting place.

What are two examples of personification? ›

Personification examples
  • “The sun smiled down on us.”
  • 'The story jumped off the page.”
  • “The light danced on the surface of the water.”
Jul 11, 2021

Where is personification used in the poem? ›


Share: Personification is a poetic device where animals, plants or even inanimate objects, are given human qualities – resulting in a poem full of imagery and description.

How is personification used in a story? ›

With personification, you emphasize a non-human's characteristics by describing them with human attributes. That non-human can be an object, an animal, or even an idea or a concept.

How does personification effect a story? ›

Generally, personification adds life, energy, and an element of relatability to things that would otherwise be lifeless, making a text a richer read for an audience.

How does personification function in a poem? ›

In poetry, personification is used to allow non-human things to take on human traits and emotions. Poets can use personification to make inanimate objects, such as a mirror, express feelings and perform actions.


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