The Description of Death Through the Use of Metaphors in Thanatopsis

The poetry piece “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson and “Thanatopsis” by William Bryant both use metaphors with houses to describe death. Bryant writes, “And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, / Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart:” to give a metaphor that the dark narrow house is a coffin. Bryant makes the house narrow like a coffin, breathless like a dead body in a coffin, and the haunting feeling of death. The whole situation gives a feeling of lifelessness.

The lifelessness that comes along when being placed in the narrow house is the same as lifelessness in a coffin.

Dickinson writes something similar to Bryant but she says, “We paused before a House that seemed/ A Swelling of the Ground -/ Roof was scarcely visible -/ The Cornice – in the Ground.” The mood surrounding this house is also very haunting. She talks about swelling ground which the coffin would be placed in.

She also says that the “top was barely visible” which could also be translated that it was mostly in the ground just awaiting her arrival, which is similar to the placement of a coffin into the ground.

A coffin when being placed into the ground is only visible from the top half up, waiting to be dropped into the ground. Both poems give off a feeling of uncertainty. The uneasiness of coming to understand that the house was not a home but a coffin.

Both poems have a common metaphor of a house.

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Houses are usually where one’s family are and people feel at rest. The house referents peace and rest but in the context of both poems it is a final resting place. This can be comforting to some, knowing that they are going “home” when they die but for others it could express feelings of uncertainty. Whatever a people decide to see the house, Dickinson and Bryant used this metaphor and so it should not be taken lightly.

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The Description of Death Through the Use of Metaphors in Thanatopsis. (2023, May 04). Retrieved from

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