Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –

from Emily Dickinson – Because I could not stop for Death (712) on Rap Genius


The speaker is saying that she felt she wasn’t ready to die, that her life wasn’t over yet, but death had other plans for her and felt that her time had come.

Dickinson also pointedly intertwines the themes of love and death by portraying a male’s courtship as nothing short of death for the female speaker. Here the woman waits to be called upon, but once chosen must give up both her work and leisure.

In Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace has the character Orin remark that one can sing almost all of Emily Dickinson’s poems to the theme of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” and then mentions this poem specifically. It’s rather silly, but it works. This opening may also reflect on the poet’s time and place. Dickinson’s New England would have been a bastion of the severe old-school “Protestant work ethic”; perhaps the poet implies ironically that she as a member of this society can’t even stop for the strongest force, death. (Notice that death, by contrast, knows “no haste.”)

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