Personification in “Because I could not stop Death and Death Be Not Proud.

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Personification in “Because I could not stop Death” and “Death Be Not Proud.”

Dickson and Donne each personify Death as embodying contradictory qualities. Personification refers to the attribution of human features to non-human things. Poets have made poetry more creative, and this has been achieved through the use of various literary devices that make the poem more enjoyable to read. For this assignment, the primary readings include “Because I could not stop Death” by Emily Dickinson (768) and “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne (740). The two poems use personification through which Death has been personified by giving it human attributes despite being a non-human.

John Donne was a minister of the Lord; at first, he believed in the catholic faith, and later on, after his brother’s Death, Donne converted to Anglican. When his brother, Henry was convicted of catholic sympathies and passed in prison he questioned his faith. Days to Doone’s Death, he became obsessed about it and even delivered a sermon, “Deaths Duel,” in which he talks about Death. Perhaps these two experiences inspired his poem “death be not proud”.

In the poem “Death Be Not Proud,” Donne uses personification throughout. To begin with, the title itself has personified Death in that ‘Death’ is being warned of not being proud. In many cases, humans are the characters that need to be warned since they have reason. People can hear, internalize and act towards a certain direction and therefore, in case of a warning, it is only possible to lecture a person as there is a higher chance of response. Death, on the other hand, is not human, and neither does it exhibit the characteristics of a person. As a result, it is difficult to have it listen or to act according to the instructions. By Donne warning death not to be proud, he gives human attributes to it, and this leads to personification. In line 9, Donne also personifies Death by stating that Death should not be feared “Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.” Through this, we learn that Death is also subject to fate, just like any other mighty person in the world. Death is not powerful than any mortal, and thus it shall also suffer in the hands of fate. In the last line of the poem, Death has also been personified in that the poet states, “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” Man has faith that Death will one day die, and thus he doesn’t need to debate with it. It is also another threat to Death that it shall one day die despite being a non-human. And just like any other person, Death shall cease in existence. Donne uses powerful personification attributes to warn Death not to be proud as its fate is sealed.

As John Gunther (15) puts it, that to be human, you are provided with a privilege to live and die with dignity. In his book, “a Memoir,” Gunther says the donne tried to personify Death. In this book, Gunther talks of Death as something that robs humans’ time to achieve their goals and adds unimaginable suffering that anyone shouldn’t go through. Gunther, however, gives hope that we should live beyond Death and try to accomplish what we can. Gunther as well believes that Donne employs personification in his poem to pass the message and give hope to people that, however they have been faced by Death, Death shall be defeated as well. The poem gives human attributes to Death. Attributes such as warnings, fate, and Death are attributed to living things, but Donne believes that Death shall as well be caught up with these attributes.

John Donne being previously a catholic and later an Anglican means he was entrenched in the Christian beliefs that during the second coming of Jesus Christ, Death shall be defeated. The Bible notes that when Jesus returns on the second coming to take the saints, the misery of Death shall cease. Thus it shall as well be defeated. Donne warns Death that it shall also have an end, and the seconding coming of Jesus Christ already determines its fate, and it shall cease to cause pain to humans. Donne was inspired the Bible writing to write the poem, his faith was integral.

Emily Dickinson has a rather unpleasant history, an introvert that most times stayed indoors. Her poetic works are mostly about Death and immortality. When her cousin and close friend Sophia Holland passed on she wrote, “it seemed to me I should die too if I could not be permitted to watch over her or even look at her face”. There was also a gospel revival that really touched her although she never made it public but she actually stated that she kept the Sabbath by staying at home. The gospel connection and her obsession with Death perhaps influenced her poems.

Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, uses personification in her poem, “Because I could not stop Death.” The title in itself is personified to illustrate the eagerness of Death upon her. She could not resist the forces of Death as though it was stronger than her. The phrase is further illustrated in line 2, “Because I could not stop death – He kindly stopped for me.” The attribute of waiting can only be given to human beings, Non-humans are immotile, and this means that they have no ability to move. By Dickinson saying that she could not stop Death, it indicates that Death was coming for her, an attribute of locomotion that evident only in living things and especially humans are granted. Besides, Death has been personified by giving it a male attribute, and this can be seen through the continued use of the word “He” which is a masculine pronoun, and this is direct personification. In another example, Dickinson personifies Death by making it act like a human in regards to manners. Humans are regarded as beings that have manners, and therefore, she compares Death with humans, and this can be seen in line 8, where she states, “For His Civility.” Through this, Dickinson provides the attribute of politeness and his manners when, in reality, that cannot be achieved. Politeness is a virtue for humans, and thus by giving Death, a human virtue implies personification. Another example of personification can be traced in line 5, where Dickinson shows the parallel travel between her and Death, “We slowly drove – He knew no haste.” In this line, Death is personified to imply that it is not immortal and is subject to Death. Through this, Dickinson provides two attributes to Death, ‘traveling and dying.’ Humans are capable of travelling, and the same case is mortal. In this line, Death is provided with both human attributes, and this makes a perception that it is human.

Carol Frost (124), in her article, questions the relationship between Death and religion, according to Dickinson’s view of the poem. For instance, she questions how a mere immerse in water would erase the dreadful nature of Death? The dreadful experience of eternity? According to Frost, Dickinson would not embrace the idea of religious believes how they assured life after Death. However, the article personifies Death to a gentleman who escorts the speaker to their graveyard. Death is given the human attribute of moving with the speaker to the graveyard. Also, Death has been masculine, and it is denoted with “he,” which is used to refer to male species. Frost concludes that Dickinson employed personification ironically to question religious beliefs and present her point of view on how cruel Death can be and its reality.

Thohiriyah (75) in her analysis on the poem, “because I could not stop for death” also notes that there is the use of personification. The speaker tells of Death, which has been personified as a person who reaps when another human being passes on. Death has been denoted as a man who accompanies one to their final place of rest.

In conclusion, Donne and Dickinson use personification in their poems to provide Death with human attributes. Death, according to Donne, is perceived as a person since its fate is sealed just like that of human beings, and therefore it also shall die in the hands of fate since it is mortal. Besides, he warns Death like it has the human attribute of listening and expects it to heed to the warnings. However, Death is not like a human being and does not act out of warning, and therefore, this is a mere personification. Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, has used personification by referring to Death as a ‘He,’ and this makes Death to be perceived in a male notion. Besides, she gives Death the virtue of politeness and waiting, things that are exhibited by human beings. She also states that Death has the ability to travel an attribute that makes it more human. Overall, the two artists have significantly used personification to describe Death by providing it with contradictory qualities that are only exhibited by humans, making the two poems more interesting to read and analyze.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily, and Susan Howe. Because I could not stop for Death. ProQuest LLC, 2004.

Robbins, Robin, ed. The Complete Poems of John Donne. Routledge, 2014.

Frost, Carol. “Frost’s Way of Speaking.” New England Review (1990-) 23.1 (2002): 119-133.

Thohiriyah, Thohiriyah. “The Concept of Death in Emily Dickinson’s’ I Cannot Stop for Death’.” Lensa: Kajian Kebahasaan, Kesusastraan, dan Budaya 7.1 (2017): 70-80.

Gunther, John, and Keith Melville. Death be not proud. HarperPerennial, 1949.