Because I could not stop for Death— Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Death appears personified in this poem as a courtly beau who gently insists that the speaker put aside both “labor” and “leisure.” He arrives in his carriage, having stopped for her because she could not have stopped for him, and he even submits to a chaperone, “Immortality,” for the length of their outing together.

This death holds no terrors. Their drive is slow, and they pass the familiar sights of the town: fields of grain which gaze at them, the local school and its playground. Even so, the speaker realizes that this is no ordinary outing with an ordinary gentleman caller when they pass the setting sun, “Or rather—He passed Us—.” She realizes that it has grown cold, that she wears only a gossamer gown and a tulle lace cap.

Death takes the speaker to her new home, “A Swelling of the Ground,” whose roof is “scarcely visible.” Though centuries have passed since the event, the entire episode, including the speaker’s awareness of her death, seems less than a day in length. The poem fuses elements of the secular seduction motif, with elements of the medieval bride-of-Christ tradition, arguable through inclusion of details such as the tippet of a nun’s habit.