Poem VAR #712

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 were children played
at wrestling in a ring
we passed the fields of gazing grain
we passed the setting sun

We stopped before a house that seemed
a swelling of the ground
the roof was scarcely visible
the cornice but a mound

Since then ‘tis centuries but each
feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
were toward eternity


HWL's Comment

Date of writing: 1979

Subject: The poem has the earmarks of describing a first sexual experience. It also uses many symbols which could answer for a heterosexual intercourse. But then it would almost necessarily be the seduction act by Bowles and this is improbable, for, why should she honor that seduction with such a great poem, when formerly she had few nice things to say about it? Nor would Sam have been the slow driving, civil partner at that occasion. And certainly, for her that experience lead not to a mutual climax. So we must ask: is here her first passive lesbian experience described? It could be, for many symbols have been used by her in actdescriptions of both sexual orientations. The cart and the horses, for example (498: I envy seas whereon he rides; 279: Tie the strings to my life, my Lord), but of course, glans carrying vaginal cup in mutual climax has been symbolized by cart and horse also. Furthermore: some of the heterosexual symbols are introduced negatively, as being “passed”. And the action of the poem carries beyond the “setting sun”, the collapsing penis, to a “swelling of the ground” that can answer for clitoris much better than any part or portion of the male genital. So it is a lesbian act. But must it necessarily be her first one? Nothing in the poem really says so, though it may faintly suggest it in the “I first surmised” (for deception’s sake). So it could have been any of her encounters with Kate, even the last one, as her surmising “horses’ heads were toward eternity” could well suggest. And the three “we passed” referring to heterosexual involvements could even lay the scene into one of the threepartite engagements and quite likely the last one.