Analysis of John Donne’s and Emily Dickinson’s Poems

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Figurative language enhances literature and you can this impact the poetry in John Donne’s Death, be not proud and Emily Dickinson’s Because I could not stop for Death. John Donne conveys the theme that Death isn’t proud, mighty, or dreadful even though some have called it so. Whereas, Emily Dickinson’s underlying message is that Death is “kind and “civil.” Regardless, of them both having different themes they adopt the same literary devices except, they’re used to develop the text in a multitude of ways. This essay will be discussing how metaphor, personification, and tone are used to make the poems points stronger.

In both works of writing, you can find metaphors, in contrast, they are used to show disparate underlying meanings. For instance, Donne’s poem states, “Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men (Line 9)” furthermore states, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; (Line 1-2)”. In line 9 Donne is comparing Death to a slave, and in lines 1-2 he uses personification with a metaphor to compare it to a person who is proud. On the other hand, Dickinson’s use of metaphors shows a deeper meaning to a simple comparison. “The Carriage held but just Ourselves-And Immortality (Line 3-4).” and “We paused before a House that seemed/A Swelling of the Ground (Line 17-18)”.

Lines 3-4 don’t mean a literal carriage rather, a journey from life to death. Similar, to how the Greek god Charon transported dead souls to Hades in a ferry on the river Styx. The carriage shows a bigger picture because it’s not a common carriage since it held the persona, Death, and Immortality. The house in lines 17-18 isn’t meant to be taken literally either since it refers to a home in the kingdom of Heaven from the Gospel of John. Additionally, it’s submerged in the ground so it could represent a grave. Nevertheless both authors used metaphors, however, Emily has a more substantial idea behind her words. Unlike John who compares Death to more straightforward ideas.

In addition to metaphors, both apply personification. John Donne practiced it in a way that made Death seem less powerful than we think. While Emily enforced it to make Death seem “kind” and “civil.” Donne states, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; (Lines 1-2)” this shows the usage of personification. Donne personifies Death to have a conservation with it. He’s arguing with Death to degrade it and say it shouldn’t be feared. Donne also points out Death is a slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men and that people could sleep with poppy or charms furthermore degrading Death. The speaker wants Death to know that it shouldn’t be proud and sure of itself because it isn’t all these things.

The argument makes the writing stronger. Contrarily, Dickinson’s application of personification causes the opposite effect. The writing states, “Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me (Lines 1-2)” similarly lines 5-8 states, “We slowly drove- He knew no haste/ And I had put away/ My labor and my leisure too,/ For His Civility.” Both quotes are along the same lines since they show personification. Death, kindly stopped for the persona, because they couldn’t stop for Death. The “civility” shown by Death leads to the persona giving up the things that made them busy to enjoy the carriage ride. As a result of the use of personification in the poetry, the argument became stronger.

Another significant literary device used was tone yet, the way it was applied in each poem caused them to convey contradictory messages. Donne’s sound is very sarcastic and assertive, to bring Death to a level of nothingness. Words such as “poor” and “slave” are used to laugh at Death. “Why swell’st thou then? (Line 12)” The tone emphasizes how weak and miserable Death is and how simple it is to mock it. Likewise, the text also states, “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. (Line 14)” This creates an idea that people won’t die, but it is Death who truly dies since the human soul lives on in the eternal world. Differently, from Donne’s poem, Emily’s tone is submissive. “He knew no haste (Line 5)” and “He kindly stopped for me (Line 2)” these show how the persona accepts being a slave to fate and that they’re dying. To sum up, John Donne’s tone was sarcastic and assertive whereas, Emily’s was submissive.

The use of metaphors, personification, tone, and many other literary devices in Donne and Dickinson’s poems served a substantial role in why these are well-known pieces today. They both give different views on death, and they showed it in their writing. Death has fascinated people for centuries. There’s no doubt in the fact that these poems made the people reading it evaluate the role of death in our world once again.


Cite this paper

Analysis of John Donne’s and Emily Dickinson’s Poems. (2021, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-john-donnes-and-emily-dickinsons-poems/



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