1 October 2018
The poems “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin, and “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson both have a common topic of death, but approach it in very different ways. Each of the poets use literary elements such as imagery and tone to help readers better understand the poems, and the themes.
The poem “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin, written through the first person, approaches death in a dark, angry, and violent tone. This poem was written with the rhyme scheme ABCACB, and it helps the flow of the poem. As the poem progresses, that feeling intensifies. The poem begins with the lines “Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right. The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain exchange was featured as merciful, quick at the bone…” (Kumin 1-3). This line introduces the poets struggle, and how they try to solve their problem with the woodchucks in the most humane way. As the poem continues, readers begin to understand the change in emotions the poet experiences. They try to remain as peaceful as possible, but their woodchuck problem eventually leads them to turn to violence. The third stanza introduces the violent and angry tone. The poet continues to talk about killing the woodchucks, but how there is still one they haven’t gotten, and how this is now a hunt for them (Kumin 25-28). The end of the poem best explains the theme of it, which is that everyone has the potential to be evil or turn to violence even if they don’t believe it.
The poet’s use of imagery helps to develop the tone and theme of the poem. In the fourth stanza, the poet writes “Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. She flip flopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard. Another baby next”(Kumin 19-22). This line explains the shift in emotions the poet makes from trying to remain peaceful and merciful, to the violence and anger they now feel towards the woodchucks. The last stanza also paints the violent and angry picture readers can see. This stanza talks about the one woodchuck the poet still has left to kill. It explains the anger they feel towards it, and that they now sleep with a gun at night because it has bothered them this much. (Kumin 25-30) Kumin also uses an invented symbol in the poem. Invented symbols are objects that have no previous symbolic significance. The woodchucks in this poem, are the invented symbol. For the poet, the woodchucks represent their anger and violence.
The poem “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson also written in the first person, discusses death, but approaches it in a more peaceful and welcoming way. This poem was written using an ABCB rhyme scheme. The poet’s use of personification throughout the poem helps the readers to better understand the tone. The personification of death paints death in a more peaceful way than how it was described in “Woodchucks”. The poet often refers to death as “He” and makes him out to be a welcoming, and kind person. In the second stanza, the poet writes “He slowly drove- He knew no haste” (Dickinson 5). This line shows the calmness that death gives off, and is allowing the poet to enjoy their ride.
This poet also uses imagery to help develop the tone of the poem. In the third stanza, the poet vividly describes the places they’re passing before they arrive at the final stop. (Dickinson 9-12) The fifth stanza paints a different picture for readers. The poet writes “We paused before a House that seemed A swelling of the Ground-” (Dickinson 17-18). This line describes the house and the “swelling of the ground” as the final resting place, giving readers the image of a grave or a graveyard. The use of imagery also helps readers to understand that the speaker is actually dead, and is re-telling the day of their death, seen in the last stanza which says “Since then-’tis Centuries-and yet Feels shorter than a Day”(Dickinson 21-22). This line also explains how the speaker has been able to come to terms with their death, since it has been so long.
The tone of the poem remains calm, and casual throughout the entirety of it which helps to develop the theme of the poem, which is easily understood just from the title. Death is an inevitable thing that all living things will experience, but this poet wants to explore that in a calmer and more peaceful way.
Each poem explores the topic of death in different ways. “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin represents death in a violent and angry way, and uses imagery and tone to help develop the theme, that everyone has the potential to turn to violence, even if they don’t realize it yet. “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson approaches death in a more calm and welcoming manner, and uses personification and imagery to develop the theme that death is inevitable for everyone. Both poems use imagery throughout, but approach it in different ways to help develop their themes.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for Death” The Norton Introduction to Literature by Kelly J. Mays, W.W. Norton ; Company, 2017 p. 839
Kumin, Maxine. “Woodchucks” The Norton Introduction to Literature by Kelly J. Mays, W.W. Norton ; Company, 2017 p. 796-797