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Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death"

Exploring how connotation and figurative language affect meaning and tone

Christy Dawson

on 25 February 2014

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Transcript of Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death"

Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death
Does Death sound like a scary, threatening figure?
Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me -
The Carriage held but just Ourselves -
And Immortality.

We slowly drove - He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility -
What words help to make Death seem non-threatening?
kindly stopped,
slowly drove,
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess - in the Ring -
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain -
We passed the Setting Sun -
Or rather - He passed us -
The Dews drew quivering and chill -
Fon only Gossamer, my Gown -
My Tippet - only Tulle -
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground -
The Roof was scarcely visible -
The Cornice - in the Ground -
Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity -
Work with your partner to answer the following questions:

1) Are there any other examples of personification in the poem? If yes, what effect do they have on the tone and meaning?
2) Can you identify other examples of alliteration?
What effect do they have on the tone and meaning?
3) What symbolic descriptions are used in the remaining stanzas? How do they contribute to the overall effect of the poem?
4) How do you interpret the speaker's attitude toward her trip with Death? Does she seem confused, frightened, resigned?
Watch the following student video. How is the poem interpreted based on this video presentation? What details do they use to relate their interpretation?
gossamer - used to refer to something very light, thin, and insubstantial or delicate
tippet - a woman's long cape or scarf
tulle - a soft, fine silk, cotton, or nylon material like net, used for making veils and dresses
Using one of the following topics or a topic of your own choice, work with a partner to brainstorm specific words and figurative language that you could use to express a particular tone and theme about the topic.

animal(s), nighttime, a new/different house, water, your car, fire, music, food
Connotation and Denotation attributed to Seema Srivastava's Argumentative Writing class in pdf found at following web address

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, circa 1846 Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Meryl Streep reading for Poetictouch.com

Student video uploaded by musicadditct8 on Jan 16, 2007
(Music by Evanescence)
Key Ideas and Details: 1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Craft and Structure: 4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.
Common Core Standards
Denotation: literal definition of a word
Connotation: the idea and/or feelings that a word evokes in a person
Rank the following groups of words in order from positive to negative.

Group 1
thin, slim, lanky, skinny, gaunt, slender

Group 2
aggressive, assertive, domineering, dynamic, pushy, forceful

Group 3
shrewd, egghead, bright, clever, brilliant, cunning, smart, intelligent, brainy
photo: Christy Dawson
photo: Christy Dawson
photo: Christy Dawson
photo: Christy Dawson
Full transcript