I rarely get the opportunity to work with verse. This is a shame because I find that I agree wholeheartedly with such apologists for poetry as Giovanni Boccaccio and Philip Sidney who argue that this refined art has the power to unveil deeper, more universal truths.
And what is more universal to the human experience than birth and taxes? Death, of course!
Because I could not stop for Death —Emily Dickinson (Poem 712)
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 —
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 —
There is so much to love about this reflection on dying. I love the imperfect symmetry and balance between the first three and last three stanzas with their repetitions of the verb to “pass” and the pivotal switch in subjects from “we” to “he.” I love Dickinson’s use of the dash — how it breaks up the thought, the text, and the line while promising more. I love how alternating stanzas of tetrametre and trimetre do the same.
Perhaps what I love most about this poem, however, is its interpretation by critics as a reflection on marriage as well. It brings me back to sitting in a 1992, black-cherry-coloured Chrysler Daytona at an intersection as my father gleefully blasted Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” on the car speakers while other drivers honked at a passing wedding party.