American Icons: Because I Could Not Stop for Death

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

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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)