American Icons: Because I Could Not Stop for Death


Friday, February 01, 2013

Because I Could Not Stop for Death Feature Card_Big2

How did Emily Dickinson's unusual poem about death become standard high school curriculum?

Emily Dickinson is one of those writers whose life is as famous as her writing: after she died, having spent much of her life writing at home, her sister found nearly two thousand poems in her bureau, all ready for publication. In a surprising number of those poems, Emily Dickinson was already dead.

"Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Dickinson’s fantasy of getting picked up by the grim reaper, has become standard reading curriculum in English classes across America, but it’s a very strange work of art. For our series on American Icons, Sean Cole, a poet himself, took a closer look at Dickinson's legendary work. And he puts to the test an old rumor that you can sing any of Dickinson’s poems to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island.” (Hint: Yes.)

(Originally aired: July 23, 2010)

    Music Playlist
  • Truth from Fiction
    Artist: Supreme Beings of Leisure
    Album: Supreme Beings of Leisure
    Label: Palm Pictures
    Purchase: Amazon


Billy Collins, Cindy Dickinson, Robert Howard, Joseph Lease, Leslie Morris, Jenny Proctor and Belinda West

Produced by:

Sean Cole


David Krasnow

Comments [3]

Big Red from Wilton

Did I really hear WORDsworth pronounced WADsworth? Emily, not to mention Emily, must be spinning in their graves.

Feb. 03 2013 03:32 PM
Jim Asher from Charlottesville, VA

Emily-Schemily! It is high time that the public recogize Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily's third-cousin, twice removed--at her request)as more than the "Salieri" to Emily's "Mozart."

Search online for "Emmett Lee Dickinson" -- and you will discover information about his life and poetry. As a matter of fact, the Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum (in WASherst, PA)is featuring many of his poems this month on Twitter: "FeBREWary: Dickinson's Poetry of Coffee & Caffeine). They tweet under the name @The_Dickinson.

Feb. 03 2013 11:58 AM
Dennis Ferguson from still alive

Amazing. I used to think of her as just strange.

Feb. 02 2013 08:08 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.