Summary / Analysis
In this poem, Emily Dickinson finds herself in a carriage with Death heading towards her burial site. She states that she can not stop for Death, so he stops for her. This could be referencing that Emily is already dead, and Death is actually the driver of her hearse. Or, it could be an expression that she wants to die, but is unable to end her own life. Either as the case may be, she immediately finds herself at peace in the carriage with just her and Death (“ourselves”), but interjects “And Immortality” suggesting an unexpected guest (which is not relevant until the very end). She notes that she put all of her work and hobbies aside for Death’s civility, which further aids in the theme that she wants her life to end. As the carriage carries on, you get the sense of a trip down memory lane. It starts with children playing and ends with the sun setting on her. Up to this point, Dickinson has done nothing, except embrace the terms of death. But now, she suggests that maybe she did not prepare well for this, referencing her clothes after the sunset. We get the indication that she is getting cold feet. The carriage then ends at her burial grounds. She describes a house, which is the mound of her dirt she will be buried in. She references the roof, which is her tombstone. Finally, in the last stanza, we learn Dickinson has actually been dead for centuries. She thought death would be permanent. She did not realize she would be heading to eternity. The eternity is likely Biblical, as she expresses centuries feel shorter than a day now– which is reference to Psalm 90:4, “‘For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”
The battle between atheism, eternity and heaven is not an uncommon theme of Emily Dickinson’s works. In her poem, “Going to Heaven!” she initially criticizes the belief in heaven as ridiculous. Yet in the end, expresses that she is grateful that the children she lost believed in it.