Because I could not stop for death

 Juliet Stevenson

  Because I could not stop for death by
  Emily Dickinson

  performed by Juliet Stevenson

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Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me -
The Carriage held but just Ourselves -
And Immortality.

We slowly drove - He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labour and my leisure too,
For His Civility -

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess - in the Ring -
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain -
We passed the Setting Sun -

Or rather - He passed Us -
The Dews drew quivering and chill -
For only Gossamer, my Gown -
My Tippet - only Tulle -

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground -
The Roof was scarcely visible -
The Cornice - in the Ground -

Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity -

Reproduced with kind permission from Harvard University Press

Interpretation by Dzifa Benson

I love this poem.  Here Dickinson, or the narrator of the poem, is riding along in a carriage with two characters Death and Immortality.  This suggests to me that while Dickinson knows that death is inevitable, she does not fear it.  This is enforced by her representation of Death, here instead of the more typical ghostly, hooded figure, death is depicted as a kindly gentleman, polite and civil.  In a similar way, in the fifth stanza, Dickinson uses the unusual metaphor of a house to describe a gravestone, referring to the ‘swelling of the ground’ and the ‘Cornice – in the Ground’.

The success of this poem is also due to the rhythm.  In the first stanza the rhythm prepares you for the rhyme scheme, however, it then curves off the rhythm, she changes it and adds internal rhymes.  I like that, I like surprises in poetry.

Dzifa Benson is a poet and journalist who writes poems, short stories and radio plays as well as contributing articles for newspapers such as the Guardian.  She is a well established performer as well as an experienced workshop facilitator in London.