Friday, July 14, 2017

Because I could not stop for Death (updated)

First there is this from 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.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

There is a reason for this poem's appearance on my blog this evening. Since midday, even though I have been posting and commenting on other matters, death has been much on my mind. That is because my wife has been away from home for a while; she is now at her sister's side in an ICU unit in a Mississippi hospital. And, in case you are wondering, the reasons for me being here rather than there are complicated, logistical, and not relevant to this posting. But back to my sister-in-law's condition: the doctors say only that she has mere days or weeks but not months remaining. She cannot stop for Death, but the carriage awaits.

I confess that Death, whenever I have witnessed his carriage carrying others away into eternity, saddens me and leaves me without adequate words.

Moreover, I am frightened about my own impending carriage ride past the gazing grain and setting sun. It is, indeed, a sobering, terrifying prospect.

And, good friends, I believe my time on this earth has been ironic: I have been preparing for and avoiding that carriage ride for as long as I can remember. But I suppose that is almost everyone's ironic predicament.

In any case, Emily Dickinson's poem is a terrifying and reassuring poem. How is that for paradox?

What say you?

My sister in law passed on into Eternity at 3:00 a.m., Saturday morning, 15 July 2017.


  1. I am sorry to hear of your sister-in-law's situation, Tim. It's hard on everyone, and I wish you well as you and your wife help her make her exit. As to Dickinson's poem, I think it speaks to our fascination with death, our fear of it, and our understanding of its inevitability. Lots of complexities about the human reaction to death, I think.

    1. I confess, Margot, I know that helping "her make her exit" is the priority but the difficulties and the terror are hard to handle.

  2. arguably the best poem ED wrote... for me it pins it down: live in the moment; enjoy using your senses to see the world around you... accept what you cannot change and have the wisdom... whoa, got off into someone else, there...
    i truly hope your relation is resting comfortably and peacefully... it's no stranger, death, it's around us constantly, and permits us a view of the eternal... and the opportunity to relax into who we really are...

    1. Mudpuddle, the carriage has departed and my sister in law has entered her peaceful eternity.

    2. condolences on your loss... best wishes to you and yours...

  3. You and your wife and your sister-in-law are in my prayers, Tim.

    1. Thank you, Frank. Flights of angels have taken Rachel with them.

  4. R.T.,

    I'm sorry to hear that. My deepest sympathies go out to you, your wife, and other family members.

  5. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Tim.

  6. R.T.,

    RIP to your sister-in-law.