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Poetry - Because I could not stop for death

Emily Dickinson was a nineteenth-century American poet. She is equally famed for her individual, unconventional voice and for the quantity of her writing (having written nearly one thousand, eight hundred poems). Unlike most poems written in the nineteenth century, Dickinson's poetry tended towards brevity - her lines, as well as her poems, are short. One of the most well-known is 'Because I could not stop for Death'.

Read the poem and then test your skill at interpretation by trying this English quiz.

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Because I could not stop for Death

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--

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--
For 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--


Emily Dickinson 

  1. Who is the 'He' of the second line?
    Death is personified throughout Dickinson's poem
  2. 'Chill' / 'Tulle' is an example of what?
    Approximate rhyme is also referred to as 'near', 'slant', or 'partial' rhyme - Dickinson uses this style of rhyme in her ABCB rhyme scheme
  3. Considering the answer to question two, what effect does this create?
  4. What is the 'House' referred to in the fourth stanza?
  5. 'And I had put away / My labor and my leisure too' - What is meant by these lines?
    Here Dickinson is very playfully comparing the ceasing of all activity at death with the way someone might politely (and temporarily) stop what she is doing when a visitor arrives
  6. With which lines are the lines in question five contrasted?
    The children are simultaneously playing at 'recess' (meaning break time) and working ('strove'). They are at the beginning of their lives, while the narrator has reached the end of hers
  7. In the third and fourth stanzas, the word 'passed' is repeated four times. Which of the following is NOT true of the effect produced by this repetition?
  8. Which words could be used to describe Death in this poem?
    Death is portrayed as a gentleman - yet the narrator has very little choice whether to climb into the carriage or not. Do you think Dickinson might be ironic in her description?
  9. How would you describe the rhythm of this poem?
    The first and third line in (nearly) every stanza have eight syllables, while the second and fourth have six
  10. In which stanza is this rhythm disrupted?
    The fourth stanza disrupts the steady rhythm, which has until then given the effect of a horse-drawn carriage travelling smoothly. At this point, the Sun has passed the narrator, taking away its light and warmth. The effect is of the carriage suddenly stopping - at the grave

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