Dr. Myrriah Gomez
11 March 2015
Reflection of Life, Through Death.
Facing the death of a close family member, dear friend or your own death is a daunting task for anyone. During such a time people often start reflecting back on their own lives. “Because I could not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas are both poems that explore the themes death by reflecting on life. Both poems use tone, symbols to convey the main themes of each poem. Emily Dickinson’s tone is romantic coupled with light symbolism, while Dylan Thomas uses dark symbolism that helps set an angry tone. At first glance both poems seem to be about death, Dickinson’s poem is narrated by a woman that died and Thomas’s poem is written about the death of his father. Both poems reflect on life and regrets.
Emily Dickinson’s poems tone is not bleak despite the heaviness of the subject. To the contrary, “Because I could not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson, a narrative elegy of a woman’s experience with death is gracious and lighthearted. This is made evident by the use of symbolism, alliteration and personification. An example of personification is in the first two lines that say “Because I could not stop for Death he kindly stopped for me” (1-2). Dickinson portrays death as a person, by capitalizing death and then referring to it as “he” indicating that she sees death in the shape of a man that can stop for her and give her a ride in a carriage. The use of the word “kindly” makes the man called death seem like a welcomed gentleman and also gives you a sense of sarcasm towards death coming before she was ready to stop for it. Giving death the face of a man is key to expressing the view of Death that the writer is conveying and setting a romantic, lighthearted view of death and immortality.
In the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, a villanelle by Dylan Thomas the tone and atmosphere is expressed by the use of repetitions, which also emphasizes the message the tone and attitude towards death are on the opposite spectrum from Dickinson’s poem. “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (1-5) are repeated three or more times within the poem. This gives the sense of rising hysteria that dying is no more a passive activity but is transformed into a vigorous act of resistance. The tone is nearly furious; you can feel the frustration Thomas is experiencing about his father still having life that was not lived yet as well as his own life that still needs to be more passionately lived. This is evident through the use of vocabulary such as “burn”, “rave”, “rage”, (along with these colorful phrases “forked no lighting”, “blinding sight”, blazed light meteors” (Thomas 637). Dylan Thomas does not want his father to die. He wants him to fight against it. Unlike Dickinson’s poem, Death does not wear a happy face in this poem.
In Dickinson’s poem, the absence of using grim words like “grave”, “cemetery”, or “coffin” in order to keep a lighthearted tone is accomplished by her use of symbols. In the third stanza she describes the carriage passing school children playing at recess, a field of grains, and the setting sun. The children playing are symbolic of childhood, perhaps her childhood. After the school they pass “the field of grazing grain” (11), a reference to midlife. She reflects back to her life, and how she just went through her life as normal, doing what everyone else was doing like one grain in a field of many. In the final line of this stanza they pass “the setting sun” (12) which is the final symbol of the circle of life, death. There is not a symbol for old age, giving the reader the idea that death as come before it was expected. She had not lived all the life she thought she had time to live and then it was cut short. In the fifth stanza the carriage arrives at what now is very obviously her grave site. The poem…