Comparison of Poems: Donne’s Death Be Not Proud and Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death

One of the most powerful and captivating issues about poetry is the ability to describe the same themes in many different and unpredictable ways. Constant discussions about death, its perception by people, and the possibility to avoid death seem to be the most frequent literary issues for consideration. The two poems of different authors will be analyzed and evaluated in this paper.

Emily Dickinson and John Donne made two powerful attempts to examine the role of death in the world and the variety of attitudes to this issue. Death Be Not Proud by Donne and Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Dickinson are the two poems with different approaches to one problem. However, it is wrong to call death a problem, this is why it is better to say that these two works help to comprehend the essence of death that is impossible to neglect and wrong to be afraid of.

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Donne and Dickinson’s works are characterized by the use of different stylistic devices (personification and metaphor), the contrast in tones of the story (sarcasm and obedience), different literary techniques, and different writing styles; and these numerous differences make these poems so powerful and so immortal for the readers as well as help them learn and comprehend the essence of death in the most appropriate ways.

In order to define the differences and similarities between the poems under discussion, it is crucially important to clear up the main themes of the works and authors’ intentions. Though the authors use the same idea to start their poems with, the chosen approaches to define the main point remain different. Dickinson’s poem begins with the phrase “because I could not stop for death” (Dickinson line 1) that is also the title of the poem.

Donne opens the poem in the same way using the title of the poem as the first line and introducing the theme namely “death, be not proud” (Donne line 1). Dickenson defines death as a visit to the narrator according to which death takes her towards her eternal grave. In his turn, Donne tries to criticize death from numerous perspectives calling it a slave who does not have any control over the narrator.

At the same time, it is clear that both authors portray death contrary to the popular beliefs presenting it as harsh, cruel, powerful, or supreme. They are not afraid of showing their own attitudes towards death, but, at this, they do not insist that their attitudes are the only correct ones.

All they try to do is to introduce their personal ways of how it is possible to treat death and be ready to accept it when the time comes. Though their main theme is death, it does not mean that they introduce similar ideas and approaches, and this is what attracts the readers’ attention and make people believe that death has its own weak and strong sides.

One of the main differences which have to be mentioned is the use of different stylistic devices such as personification and metaphors that help to introduce death to the reader. To prove that death is something that people should not be afraid of, Donne tries to personify it from the very beginning. The use of such Old English personal pronouns as thee and thou demonstrate the author’s intentions to represent death as something that is clear and evident.

With the help of personification, it is not that difficult to believe that death is not as scary as it seems. Even if “our best men with thee do go/ Rest of their ones, and soul’s delivery” (Donne lines 7-8), there is no reason to be afraid of this personalized issue. As for the Dickinson’s poem, the decision to use another type of metaphor is made.

The image of a journey in “the carriage held but just ourselves” (Dickinson line 3) is used to describe her life and moving towards the end of life. Children who play in the yard symbolize her youthful days. The field of gazing grain becomes a symbol of the mature age, and the setting sun becomes a symbol of her old age. As soon as the narrator moves towards her eternal home, she becomes more mature and exhausted to resist death, and the things around her become animate.

Just like Donne, this author tries to explain that death is not as invisible and intangible as many people tend to believe. However, it is wrong to personify it because it is not about life that is given to every person but, on the contrary, it is the end of this life, the eternal sleep that has to be accepted.

One more peculiarity of these two poems is the attitude and the tones which are used by the authors: for instance, Donne cannot believe that death may have enough power to make orders and influence people’s lives while Dickinson cannot find enough strengths to resist this power and reject the journey offered to the narrator.

Donne’s poem is full of sarcasm. This author mocks at death that tries to become a powerful person to be proud of. His poem brings death to the level of nothingness. Death is a thing that has no power, no control over itself and other people’s desires, and no rights for existence. Such words as “poor” and “slave” are used to laugh at death. Toward the end of the poem, he sarcastically states “why swell’st thou then?” (Donne line 12).

This question and the tone emphasize how weak and miserable death can be and how easy it is to mock at her. “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (Donne line 14). These words reflect Donne’s strong sarcastic tone one more time and create an idea that people cannot die; but it is actually death that has to die because human souls continue living in the eternal world.

The Dickenson’s poem has the tone that is more submissive. The narrator depicts her submission before death and travels with it towards her eternal destination. Her sense of submission is evident from the fact that she gives life to inanimate objects and makes herself inanimate.

Other words, such as “he knew no haste” (Dickinson line 5) and “he kindly stopped for me” (Dickinson line 2) prove the fact that the narrator accepts her status of a slave to death. During the whole poem, it is possible to observe that the tone chosen by the narrator starts changing.

The narrator feels that everything around her is going to change and betray her. She is not informed about what should happen to her in the nearest future. She is lost, and no one can show the right way. This journey is over for her, and nothing can be changed and no other journeys can be taken. It is the end that she did not expect, and it is hard to believe that somebody or something can treat her this way.

Among the variety of literary techniques which influence the writing style of the author, it is possible to define the use of conceit and monologues in the poems. Conceit is farfetched personifications according to which two unlike objects are compared and made look similar.

Donne seems to be a master of conceit; his poem draws a strong and influential comparison between death and a person who considers himself to be proud. “Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so” (Donne line 2) – this phrase is used to indicate death’s notions about itself.

Dickinson also uses the same conceit and portrays death as a man; however, the use of such words as “kindly”, “civility”, “no haste” cannot create any positive impression about death and its functions in the poem. This metaphor is deeper and more serious as it gives life: “we passed the fields of gazing grain/ we passed the setting sun” (Dickinson lines 11-12).

What is more, death may be perceived more like a suitor who has come to marry the narrator and take her away. However, it is not the only image of death that can be observed in the poem. There is another silent person in the carriage that is called “Immortality”. It is not the example of personification as it is in the Donne’s poem; however, it is one more idea to think about and realize what death actually is.

Due to such specific and powerful literary techniques, it is not very difficult to analyze the style of writing and the messages which are presented by different authors. Donne as the author who does not have either respect or fear to death tries to use as many offensive words as possible to show how miserable can death be. His style of writing seems to be a bit difficult due to the use of some Old English words; however, in general, every message is clear and comprehensible.

As for the Dickinson’s writing style, there are no difficulties to comprehend each her word and thought. She is lost, scared, and confused about what happens to her. Still, she is able to say clearly what may bother her and why. Her writing style and the chosen sequence of ideas attract many readers; this is why it is always interesting to re-read this poem and try to find out another detail and enjoy this story and this journey, once again.

Without any doubts, Donne and Dickinson’s poems are the two masterpieces in English Literature. The theme of death has fascinated writers since centuries. Their treatment to the theme is a reflection of the individuality of both poets. The poems under consideration present a deep insight into the views of the two poets.

The use of different literary techniques, tones, and styles of writing may serve as a powerful reason of the fact that these poems have maintained their individuality. Dickinson and Donne are the great authors who provide their readers with a chance to evaluate the role of death in our world and decide how exactly it should be met by those who it comes for.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” The Literature Network. 22 Apr.2010,

Donne, John. “Death, Be Not Proud.” Poetry.org. 22 Apr. 2010,

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