Journal

My Research and Analysis of the Word "Immortality" in Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death"

Posted by Maddie on October 21, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Pasted below is my research and of Emily Dickinson's use of the word "Immortality" in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death."

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is famous for its description of Death as a courteous suitor. “Immortality,” one of the three carriage passengers, is not recognized for its full importance perhaps because it is difficult to understand the role immortality’s personification is meant to play in the poem. The literary critics Richard Chase, Theodore Hoepfner, and Maria Farland attempt to decode “Immortality[‘s]” meaning; but, they disagree with one another over its definition and purpose. Richard Chase views Dickinson’s personification of the “Immortality” as “meretricious and unnecessary,” and a technical flaw. He argues that the capitalization challenges common sense because “Immortality ought to be the destination of the coach and not one of the passengers” (Chase 249-250). Chase interprets “Immortality” as synonymous with “heaven” ; he argues that a place cannot be treated as if “heaven” were a carriage passenger. On the contrary, Theodore Hoepfner and Maria Farland believe Dickinson has an intention to treat “Immortality” as a person, but they have differing views on the its purpose. Hoepfner debates that Chase is incorrect because “Immortality” represents the soul, not heaven. He writes, “the image of the carriage and driver is appropriate….The soul is immortal, and our immortality, therefore “rides” always with us as a copassenger…because the soul is our immortal part … journeying with us” (Hoepfner 96). Maria Farland offers a differing suggestion for the personification of immortality. She believes Dickinson’s “Immortality” causes the relief the reader feels in the first three stanzas. Farland believes “702” illustrates the popular view of death and immortality in Dickinson’s time. Her view sets up “harmonious images that recall[s] sentimentality’s domestication of death” as a gentlemanly suitor. The “harmonious” view is later rejected in the final stanzas where death is portrayed realistically (Farland 372-373). Farland sees the personification of immortality as a tool for comfort in order to make the reader assume life has some sort of eternity rather than the abrupt end to the grave, “a house that seemed/ A swelling of the ground” (Farland 17-8). Although immortality gives human beings instant relief, Poem “702” provides the most evidence to support Hoepfner’s interpretation of “Immortality.” The separation between the soul and the body is emphasized physically in the first stanza: the word “Immortality” is placed separately to suggest no connection between the other passengers in the carriage, Death and the narrator. In the last two stanzas of Dickinson’s “702,” the stanza regarding “Immortality” is physically separated from the stanza regarding the body. The stanza with the graveyard symbolizes the body’s final destination in the ground while the last stanza illustrates the livelihood of the soul looking back on life from “Eternity.” Darker in illustration, these stanzas support Farland’s view that the poem progressively reveals the optimistic assumption of “Immortality” as flawed. Although the “pause” of the carriage in the fifth stanza represents a stop in motion and a final endpoint where the body is destined to the ground, the last stanza refutes Chases’ point that immortality is a destination: “Immortality” is portrayed rather as an eternal state of mind: the verb “Feels” acts to represent the brain’s eternally active thoughts and movement with no true time limit—“Since then ‘tis centuries.” Consequently, a combination between Farland and Hoepfner’s interpretation is best supported by Dickinson’s poem: separation between the temporary life of the body and immortal soul is substantiated by the poem’s line and stanza structure, and the shift in the narrator’s tone supports “Immortality[‘s]” function as a cushion.


Please email me at [email protected] if you would like the bibliography. I wrote this in December 2010 last year as an English assignment, but I thought I would post it for all to see.

Hope you found a new perspective,

Maddie

Categories: Portfolio, Poetry, Maddie

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