Historical Context in Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Controversial Publication History: Emily Dickinson was an intensely private person. As a poet she had no interest in publishing her work and instructed her sister Lavinia to destroy her manuscripts after her death. When Dickinson died in 1886, Lavinia went against Dickinson’s wishes and gave the poems to family friends Mary Todd Loomis and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who began preparing the poems for publication. The duo made a number of editorial choices to the poems before beginning to publish them in 1890 as The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Volume 1. These include alterations to the diction, capitalization, and punctuation, as well as the occasional removal of lines and even stanzas. In the case of “Because I could not stop for death,” they added a title (“The Chariot”) and they removed an entire stanza. As a result, it can be difficult in many of Dickinson’s poems to discern which stylistic choices were true to the poet’s original vision.