She was an eccentric recluse who dressed entirely in white, avoided personal contact, and spent the latter part of her life in near isolation. While she was a prolific poet, only a handful of her 1800 poems were published during her lifetime. Most of her work was collected by her sister and published after her death in 1886.
The poem below, perhaps her most widely recognized, reflects her lifelong obsession with death. In this poem, Death takes the form of a gentleman caller who carries the narrator off in his carriage. While the poem is unsettling, it is not particularly sad, perhaps reflecting the unmarried author’s acceptance of Death as her ultimate companion.
Curiously, the poem can be perfectly sung to the tune from Gilligan’s Island.
Because I Could Not Stop For Death
Because I could not stop for Death,
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 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.