Posted by: Tom Triumph | February 1, 2009

9. Because I Could Not Stop for Death: Emily Dickinson

You can do a lot of fun things with Dickinson. If you get her original works and compare them to the versions heavily edited by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd it gets students to think about the minutia of language. After they weigh in on which version is more “true” they also tend to feel smarter, because their opinions end up being backed by the text and they leave with a basic understanding of the poem. My wife often uses Dickinson poems to teach grammar; give them the text, and let them put in the “proper” punctuation. Of course, you can also just figure out the meaning (hint: notice that Death is capitalized!)

Because I Could Not Stop for Death
by Emily Dickinson

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 labor, 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 grew 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 but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

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