The Chariot By Emily Dickinson


Introduction of the Poem

“The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson written around 1863, tries to capture mortal experience from the standpoint of immortality. The idea of death is treated without any of the emotions of fear, anxiety or pain that usually accompany the idea. It is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poet on a carriage ride to eternity. Another passenger in the carriage is immortality. Afterlife is therefore seen as an eternal journey. The image of the carriage and the driver is highly appropriate. The use of metaphor governs the structure of the poem. In this poem, the poetess describes her imaginative experience of death. She speculates about the meaning of death and probes the mystery of life after death. ‘The Chariot’ is the best and the most reflective poem of Emily Dickinson. At the apparent level, the poetess describes a funeral procession up to the grave. But at the deeper level, the poem describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

The poem is in the form of a narrative. The poetess personifies death as a courteous gentleman. Death meets her on the road of life. He takes her in his carriage for a ride. The poem describes this ride and the feelings of the poetess during this ride. The ride is a symbol of man’s last journey on this earth. The carriage is a symbol of the hearse.

In this poem, death is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poetess on a carriage ride to eternity. Another passenger in the carriage is immortality. Thus life after death is seen as an eternal journey. The poetess had already guessed that the carriage was taking her to eternity.

Explanation of Important Passages

(Lines 1—4)

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot’ by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poem describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that a man never stops to think about death in his life. But death does come one day. It ends man’s journey on this earth. But that is not the final end. After the end of the mortal life on this earth, there is immortal life for us in Heaven. To conclude, we can say that the poetess was so busy that she had no time for death. But the death very gently stopped his chariot and the poetess gave up not only her work but her leisure also for him. She sat in the chariot of Death. There were only three passengers in the chariot – the poetess, death and immortality. Death himself was at the driver’s seat. The poem is rich in personifications and symbolism. Death and Immortality have been personified as two gentlemen.

(Lines 5—8)

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot” by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poem describes a spiritual journey that takes on eternity.

Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that one day Death himself came to her. He took the poetess for a ride in his Chariot. He drove his chariot very slowly. He was in no haste. The poetess says that she put away all her worldly activities to accompany Death. She gave up all the labour and leisure of her life. She did so in order to reciprocate the courtesy of Death. All the activities of man come to end with his death. But she accepts the fact of death calmly. There is no pain in her thought of death. To conclude we can say that the poetess honoured Death. She gave up not only her work but also her leisure for the sake of Death. Now she is sitting in the carriage along with death. Thus we find that Death is presented as a gentle friend, not a horrible thing.

(Line 9—12)

We passed the school where
Children strove
At recess in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun-

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot’ by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poem describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that the chariot passed by a school. The children were playing there. They had hardly finished their lessons yet. Then the chariot passed by the fields. Crops were growing there. Grains were gazing at the riders. Lastly, the chariot passed by the setting sun.

In fact, the mind of the poetess goes back to the past. She thinks of the journey of life that leads ultimately to death. The school, the grain and the setting sun are respectively the symbols of childhood, youth and old age. Thus these lines describe the journey to immortality.

(Line 14—16)

The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only Gossamer, my gown,
My tipper, only tulle.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot’ by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poem describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

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Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that the setting sun passed by them. With the setting of the sun, the air grew cold and wet. The poetess felt this chill because she was wearing only gossamer for her gown and a thin cloth for her scarf. The setting sun here is a symbol of old age. In this poem, the poetess describes her imaginative experience of death.

(Lines 17—20)

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice in the ground.

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot’ by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poem describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that the chariot stopped before a house. It was just like swelling of the ground. The root of this house was hardly visible. Its cornice was at the level of the ground. The house here is a symbol of the grave man’s journey of life that ends in the grave. To conclude we can say that Death in this poem is described as a gentleman. He comes with his companion Immortality. They come in a Chariot. Death is like the bridegroom. The poetess is his bride. He has come to take the poetess on his chariot. At the end of the journey, they reach the house of death. They stopped before a house that looked like a grave. The roof of this house could hardly be seen. The cornice was a small mound. So here the concrete image of the roof and cornice is identified with the grave.

(Lines 21—24)

Since then ’tis centuries; and yet
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity

Reference to the Context: These lines have been taken from the poem ‘The Chariot’ by Emily Dickinson. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death as a lover or a gentleman or a bridegroom. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poet describes a spiritual journey that takes one to eternity.

Explanation: In these lines, the poetess says that centuries have passed since the end of that journey. And yet each of those centuries now seems to be shorter than a day even. The poetess says that even at the time of the ride, she had guessed that the chariot horses were leading her to eternity. In other words, she means to say that since her death she has lost count of time. For a dead man, time either flies very fast or moves very slowly. Now her soul is having a life of eternity. On the day of her death itself, the poetess could guess that her body would be consigned to the grave but her soul would have its onward journey towards eternity. The given lines show the poetess’ faith in the eternal life of the soul after death. To conclude we can say that Death is a major theme in this poem. Death is also presented here subjectively. It also means loss. Death is here personified as the bridegroom who comes with his friend to take away his bride. When eternity is achieved, the power of death is no more.


Questions and Answers


Stanzas for Comprehension

(Lines 1—8)

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 labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

Questions

(1) Name the poem and the poetess?

(2) Who stopped for the poetess?

(3) Who were in the carriage?

(4) Was Death in haste?

(5) What had the poetess done?

Answers

(1) The name of the poem is ‘The Chariot’ and its poetess is Emily Dickinson.

(2) Death stopped for the poetess.

(3) There were Death, the poetess and Immortality in the carriage.

(4) No, death was not in haste.

(5) The poetess had given up her work as well as leisure for the sake of Death.

(Lines 17—24)

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.

Questions

(1) Name of the poem and the poetess?

(2) What house does the poetess refer to?

(3) Where was the cornice of the house?

(4) How much time has passed since then?

(5) What did the poetess guess?

Answers

(1) The name of the poem is ‘The Chariot’ and its poetess is Emily Dickinson.

(2) The poetess refers to her grave.

(3) The cornice of the house was underground.

(4) Centuries have passed since then.

(5) The poetess guessed that she was on the way to Eternity.


Short-Answer Questions


Q.1.Write briefly the theme of the poem ‘The Chariot’.

Ans. The poem reflects the poetess’ belief that the body ends in death. The soul is immortal and after being liberated from the body, it attains eternal life. Emily Dickinson does not look down on Death as a feared and hated enemy. It is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poet on a carriage ride to eternity. Another passenger in the carriage is Immortality. Afterlife is therefore seen as an eternal journey.

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Q.2. What is the significance of the carriage’s passing by the school, the fields, and the setting sun?

Ans. The passing of Death’s carriage by ‘the school’, ‘the fields’ and ‘the setting sun’ is quite significant. There is symbolism in these phrases. ‘The school’ ‘the fields’ and ‘the setting sun’ stand for the different stages of human life. They symbolize childhood, mature age and old age respectively.

Q.3. Write a note on personification and symbolism in the poem?

Ans. The use of personification and symbolism governs the structure of the poem. Death and Immortality have been personified as two gentlemen. They take the poetess to her grave in a most gentle, kindly and courteous manner. Death’s carriage is said to pass by a school. Here children are playing and a wrestling match is going on. In fact, all this is symbolic. The children at play, suggest the vigour and vitality of life. The wrestling match is symbolic of the struggle in life. Also, the school ground stands for childhood, ripe fields symbolise the mature age, and the setting sun is the symbol of old age. The mound-like house stands for the grave.

Q.4. Discuss the reasons for which the poetess, Emily Dickinson, did not stop for death. Base your answer on her poem, ‘The Chariot’?

Ans. Emily Dickinson says that she had no time to think about death in her life. She remained all the time busy in worldly activities. She never spared time to think about death. The poetess is, in fact, telling a universal truth. Generally, the man never thinks about death in his life. The world is too much with turn. He thinks of death only when he nears the end of his life’s journey.


Essay Type Questions


Q.1. Give the main theme of the poem ‘The Chariot’?

Ans. ‘The Chariot’ tries to capture mortal experience from the standpoint of immortality. The idea of death is treated without any of the emotions of fear, anxiety or pain that usually accompany the idea. It is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poet on a carriage ride to eternity. Another passenger in the carriage is Immortality. Afterlife is therefore seen as an eternal journey. The image of the carriage and the driver is highly appropriate. The use of metaphor governs the structure of the poem. In this poem, the poetess personifies Death. She presents Death as a lover. She says that she had no time to think about Death in her life. She remained busy all the time in her worldly activities. Then one day Death himself came to her. He took the poetess for a ride in his chariot. There was another rider also in the chariot. It was Immortality. The poetess means to say that man does not think about death in life. But death does come one day. It ends man’s journey on this earth. However, it gives man the gift of immortality.

Death is not in a hurry. He drives his chariot slowly. In other words, death comes slowly but surely. His chariot passed by a school. Children were playing there. Then the chariot passed by the grain fields. Lastly, the chariot passed by the setting sun. It is, in fact, a symbolical description of the different stages in man’s life. The school, the grain fields and the setting sun are respectively the symbols of childhood, youth and old age.

After passing by the setting sun, Death’s chariot stopped before a house. The house was just a swelling of the ground. The roof of the house was scarcely visible. Most of it was buried in the ground. Here the house is clearly a symbol of the grave.

Then the poetess describes her vision of life after death. She says that centuries have passed since she rode in Death’s chariot. And yet each of these centuries now seems to be shorter than a day even. In other words, there is no concept of time in life after death. It is a timeless and deathless world.

To conclude, we can say that Emily Dickinson accepts death as a fact. But she does not accept it as a negative force of destruction. She accepts it as a helpful lover who leads his beloved to eternity. The image of the carriage and the driver is highly appropriate. The use of metaphor governs the structure of the poem. So ‘The Chariot’ tries to capture mortal experience from the standpoint of immortality.

Q.2. Consider the way in which Death has been personified in the poem ‘The Chariot’?

Ans. Death is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poetess on a carriage ride to eternity. ‘The Chariot’, written around 1863, tries to capture mortal experience from the standpoint of immortality. The idea of death is treated without any of the emotions of fear, anxiety or pain that usually accompany the idea.

In her poem, Emily Dickinson personifies Death as a lover. Death frees man from the troubles of material life. It leads him to eternity. The poetess says that she had no time to think about Death in her life. She remained all the time busy in her worldly activities. Then one day, Death himself came to the poetess. He took the poetess for a ride in his carriage. The carriage is here a symbol of the hearse which is used for man’s last journey on this earth.

The poetess describes symbolically the funeral march of man. She says that Death drove his carriage very slowly. He was in no haste. His carriage passed by a school. Children were playing there. Then the carriage passed by the grain fields. Lastly, the carriage passed by the setting sun. In fact, the poetess describes symbolically the three stages in man’s life on this earth. The school, the grain fields and the setting sun are respectively the symbols of childhood, youth and old age.

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After passing by the setting sun, Death’s carriage stopped before a house. This house was just like the swelling of the ground. The root of the house was scarcely visible. Most of it was buried in the ground. Here the house has been used as a symbol of the grave.

Thus, death has been personified as a lover who accompanies his beloved to the end of her journey. But it is only the end of one’s earthly journey. After completing this journey, man lands in the timeless and deathless world of heaven.

To conclude we can say that the use of personification governs the structure of the poem. Death and Immortality have been personified as two gentlemen. They take the poetess to her grave in a most gentle, kindly and courteous manner. So Death is personified as a gentle friend who is taking the poet on a chariot ride to eternity.


Objective Type Questions


Q.1.Who were in the carriage?

Ans. There were Death, the poetess and Immortality in the carriage.

Q.2. Was Death in haste?

Ans. No, death was not in haste.

Q.3. Who stopped for the poetess?

Ans. Death stopped for the poetess.

Q.4. What had the poetess done?

Ans. The poetess had given up her work as well as leisure for the sake of Death.

Q.5. What house does the poetess refer to?

Ans. The poetess refers to her grave.

Q.6. Where was the cornice of the house?

Ans. The cornice of the house was underground.

Q.7. How much time has passed since then?

Ans. Centuries have passed since then.

Q.8. What did the poetess guess?

Ans. The poetess guessed that she was on the way to Eternity.

Analysis

Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson has become one of the greatest American poets. Her unique style of writing has become iconic in the poetry world. No one can quite capture her ability to write. However, out of the 1,775 poems, she wrote only 7 were published before her death. Her sister, Lavinia, found all of her poems and published them in a book known as “The Poems of Emily Dickinson.” Among these poems was “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” In this particular poem, Dickinson uses personification, symbols, and metaphors to convey the connection between death and a person.

Dickinson uses personification to convey how death is like a person in her poem “Because I could Not Stop for Death.” This is shown when she conveys how death waits for her. This is specifically shown in lines 1 and 2 “Because I could not stop for Death‐ He kindly waited for me‐.” This is personification because death cannot literally stop to wait for someone. Dickinson portrays that death acts like a person waiting for her to join.

Another example is when she compares death to its manners. This is shown in line 8 “for his civility‐.” She says this to illustrate that death is polite and his manners when in reality, this is not possible. Finally, she uses personification to show how she and death travel
together in line 5 “We slowly drove‐He knew no haste.” Death is being personified as a person who is driving to death. These are all examples of how Dickinson used personification to compare death to a person.
Dickinson also uses metaphors in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. She uses these to compare the journey and resting place of death. The journey to death is shown in lines 3 and 4, “The carriage held but just ourselves‐And Immortality.”

These lines are illustrating the final passage to death. By not using like or as, Dickinson is able to compare the transportation methods from the past and today. She compares a carriage to today’s hearse. Another thing Dickinson is able to compare in this poem is home and sometimes final resting place. This is shown in lines 17 and 18: “We paused before a House that seemed a swelling of the ground‐“ The effect that this line has is showing how the house is where you go to sleep, and your final resting place is the last place you go to sleep. This is how Dickinson uses metaphors in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”.

Finally, Dickinson uses symbols throughout her poem as well. An example of this shown in line 12, “We passed the setting sun‐“. This line symbolizes death and darkness by the use of the setting sun. Another example of symbolism is shown in line 18, “a swelling of the Ground‐“. This line symbolizes that there are people who have already died, and she is to join. Dickinson shows the symbolism in line 5 as well when she says “We slowly
drive‐“. This symbolizes how death is a slow thing, and it doesn’t come quickly. These are some examples of how Dickinson used symbols throughout her poem.

This is how Emily Dickinson uses personification, metaphors, and symbols in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” to convey how death can relate to symbols of death and how death can be a person. The topic of the poem relates to how death is waiting to take you on that carriage ride home, the way God is waiting to take you to a new home in heaven.

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