Death is personified as a gentleman caller or suitor. Thomas H. Johnson calls him "one of the great characters of literature." But exactly what kind of person is he? Is Death a kind, polite suitor? The speaker refers to his "kindness" and "civility." The drive symbolizes her leaving life. She progresses from childhood, maturity (the "gazing grain" is ripe) and the setting (dying) sun to her grave. The children are presented as active in their leisure ("strove"). The images of children and grain suggest futurity, that is, they have a future; they also depict the progress of human life. Is there irony in the contrast between her passivity and inactivity in the coach and their energetic activity?
The word "passed" is repeated four times in stanzas three and four. They are "passing" by the children and grain, both still part of life. They are also "passing" out of time into eternity. The sun passes them as the sun does everyone who is buried. With the sun setting, it becomes dark, in contrast to the light of the preceding stanzas. It also becomes damp and cold ("dew grew quivering and chill"), in contrast to the warmth of the preceding stanza. Also the activity of stanza three contrasts with the inactivity of the speaker in stanzas four and five. They pause at the grave. What is the effect of describing it as a house?
In the final stanza, the speaker has moved into death; the language becomes abstract; in the previous stanzas the imagery was concrete and specific. What is Dickinson saying about death or her knowledge of death with this change? The speaker only guesses ("surmised") that they are heading for eternity. Why does she have to guess? She has experienced life, but what does she specifically know about being dead? And why didn't death tell her? If eternity is their goal, can Immortality be a passenger? Or is this question too literal-minded?
Why does Dickinson change from past tense to present tense with the verb "feels" (line 2, stanza 6)? Does eternity have an end?
"Because I could not stop for Death", we witness the speaker being literally carried away by death, a "kindly" gentleman. From the window of his carriage, her whole life flashes before her eyes in slow motion - childhood, maturity and old age, as symbolised by the school children, fields of grain and the setting sun. There is no sense that she is resisting or horrified by her final departure. And, far from being a terrifying experience, the journey to the grave unfolds in a leisurely, dream-like fashion.
All those expressions of horror, despair and loneliness that we associate with Dickinson's poetry are absent. To have died is to be freed of such emotions and yet there is something quite chilling about this absence of feeling or recognition. It is not until the very end that the full significance of Dickinson's irony becomes apparent.
The speaker's remarks on Death's kindness and civility, her acquiescence to this fateful journey, her failure to recognise the "swelling of the Ground" as a grave and, finally, her sense that it seems like just yesterday that she surmised she was heading for Eternity (which might well be the name of the next town), all suggest a genteel, drawing room conversation in which the participants do not recognise that they are dead. Read this way, it is an allegory about polite society's denial of death and its associated horrors, rather than the experience of it.
In this poem, Dickinson’s speaker is communicating from beyond the grave, describing her journey with Death, personified, from life to afterlife. In the opening stanza, the speaker is too busy for Death (“Because I could not stop for Death—“), so Death—“kindly”—takes the time to do what she cannot, and stops for her.