"The Chariot" is the final song in Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson song cycle and the first one that he actually wrote for the cycle. The song was orchestrated, along with seven others, in 1958.
In the words of Copland: "Originally, I had no intention of composing a song cycle using Emily Dickinson's poems. I fell in love with one poem, 'The Chariot.' Its first lines absolutely threw me...The idea of this completely unknown girl in Massachusetts seeing herself riding off into immortality with death himself seemed like such an incredible idea! I was struck with that, especially since it turned out to be true. After I set the poem, I continued reading Emily Dickinson. The more I read, the more her vulnerability and loneliness touched me. The poems seemed the work of a sensitive yet independent soul. I found another poem to set, then one more, and yet another..."
--Aaron Copland in Copland Since 1943
Because I Could Not Stop for Death
by Emily Dickinson
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 labour, and my leisure too
For His Civility --
We passed the school, where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done.
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
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; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
[Another version of the Dickinson has the following after the first two stanzas:
We passed the School, where Children
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew 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 – in the Ground –