Because I could not stop for death
originally for high voice and piano
could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held
but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
rather, be passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before house
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
[ 4 pages, circa 3' 45" ]
Dickinson left several versions of this poem. The punctuations and phrases
are however similar, and any reading of the text would be approximately the
same, irrespective of which version is considered.
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was almost
unknown and nearly unpublished in her own lifetime. She has since come to be
regarded along with Walt Whitman as one of the two great American poets of
the 19th century. Often called reclusive, Dickinson lived nearly her whole
life at the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dickinson's poetry is often recognizable at a glance, and is unlike the work
of any other poet. Her facility with ballad and hymn meter, her extensive
use of dashes and unconventional capitalization in her manuscripts, and her
idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery combine to create a unique lyric style.
Her work was initially published in heavily-edited form, finding popularity
in the 1890s. Her poetry was republished in 1955 in a form closer to her
manuscripts. It still appears strikingly modern in many respects. Her life,
about which little is definitively known, has inspired numerous biographers
and voluminous speculation. Dickinson died of what would today be called
nephritis, a sometimes acute disease of the kidneys. Her last words were: "I
must go in, for the fog is rising."
By the time of her death, only ten of Dickinson's poems (which number almost
1800) had been published. Three posthumous collections in the 1890s
established her as a powerful eccentric, but it wasn't until the twentieth
century that she was truly appreciated as one of the greatest American
setting is a simple rocking motion between lines, insistent and steady, over
which the voice declares this fatal text. The piano accompaniment should
blur the gestures. (The examples below are drawn from the medium key
The intensity and drama of the piece
rises to the line realizing that the "house" was the grave whose "roof was
scarcely visible, the cornice but a mound." The accompaniment begins anew in
the same methodic pattern, and the setting concludes simply by fading away.
As the setting is simple, the singing of it must be as well, drawing an
interpretation from the rise in intensity of the setting. It is most
assuredly not a horrific tale in either text or music, but rather a
realization of "eternity."
is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial
performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement
with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
I could not stop for death