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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.

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.

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 who 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, ‘travelling 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.

In conclusion, Donne and Dickinson uses 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

Emily Dickinson. “Because I could not stop Death” (768)

John Donne. “Death Be Not Proud” (740).