Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Quotes

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1.

Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed


Narrator, Success is counted sweetest

The concept of success is best understood by those who do not achieve it. In the poem a defeated soldier feels a deeper loss than a victorious soldier feels the joy of winning. This feeling is typical of Dickinson's belief that truth depends on one's perspective.

2.

"Faith" is a fine invention / For Gentlemen who see!


Narrator, "Faith" is a fine invention

The speaker prefers microscopes, or empirical science, to faith. Observation is crucial to Dickinson, who is more interested in understanding the world she can see than in having faith in what she cannot.

3.

I taste a liquor never brewed, / From tankards scooped in pearl


Narrator, I taste a liquor never brewed--

The speaker is becoming drunk on the beauty of nature. The liquor is nature, which she is drinking from tankards, or large cups with hinged tops. It is a "liquor never brewed" because it is not made by humans.

4.

There's a certain Slant of light, / Winter Afternoons— / That oppresses, like the Heft / Of Cathedral Tunes


Narrator, There's a certain Slant of light

The speaker notes during winter afternoons light falls in a particular way—a certain slant—that seems heavy and oppressive. To Dickinson, light represents understanding, and this light, which appears just before the darkness, symbolically presages death and thereby leads to feelings of despair.

5.

How dreary to be somebody! / How public, like a frog / To tell your name the livelong day / To an admiring bog!


Narrator, I'm Nobody! Who are you?

The speaker prefers to be nobody and would find it tiresome to be "somebody" because professional recognition would be too public. It would require presenting oneself to an admiring but uninformed audience. This sentiment seems to reflect the way Dickinson herself must have felt. A private person, Dickinson lived a sheltered life and shunned public notice.

6.

The Soul selects her own Society— / Then—shuts the Door—


Narrator, The Soul selects her own Society--

An individual—the soul—chooses a companion, or several, with whom she wishes to associate. She then shuts herself off from others, not wishing to maintain friendships with those she finds uncongenial even though they may be influential.

7.

A Bird came down the Walk— / He did not know I saw— / He bit an Angleworm in halves / And ate the fellow, raw.


Narrator, A Bird, came down the Walk--

The speaker secretly observes a bird devouring a worm it has bitten in half. This is an example of Dickinson's keen, unflinching observation of what happens in nature.

8.

Much Madness is divinest Sense— / To a discerning Eye— / Much Sense—the starkest Madness


Narrator, Much Madness is divinest Sense--

Paradoxically madness can seem sensible, and sense can seem insane, to one whose perception is keen. This is another example of Dickinson's belief that truth depends upon one's perspective.

9.

This is my letter to the World / That never wrote to Me / The simple News that Nature told, / With tender Majesty


Narrator, This is my letter to the World

The speaker, presumably Dickinson herself in this instance, states her poetry—her "letter to the World"—is the wisdom nature imparts to her. She then asks the reader to treat her tenderly for that reason.

10.

There interposed a Fly— / With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz— / Between the light—and me—


Narrator, I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--

On her deathbed, the speaker is prevented from having a final spiritual revelation because a fly buzzes in at the crucial moment, blocking illumination. Its annoying and intrusive presence brings to mind the imminent decaying of the body rather than spiritual revelations. These lines are an example of Dickinson's penchant for describing death precisely as mundane rather than extraordinary.

11.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky— / For—put them side by side— / The one the other will contain / With ease—and You—beside—


Narrator, The Brain--is wider than the Sky--

By asserting the brain is larger than and can contain the entire sky, the speaker is saying the mind can understand or conceive of immeasurably large natural phenomena. This statement illustrates Dickinson's belief in the great power of the imagination.

12.

I dwell in Possibility— / A fairer House than Prose—


Narrator, I dwell in Possibility--

Using an architectural conceit, the speaker states she dwells in a house called "Possibility," better in many ways than the house called "Prose," implying possibility stands for poetry. This quotation reflects Dickinson's belief poetry has more expressive potential and a wider range than prose.

13.

Because I could not stop for Death— / He kindly stopped for me— / The Carriage held but just Ourselves— / And Immortality.


Narrator, Because I could not stop for Death--

The speaker begins to relate a journey she embarks upon with the personified Death and Immortality. Although the poem begins positively, it ends with a rather grim portrayal of the reality of death. This loss of illusion about death is typical of the way Dickinson discusses it.

14.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant— / Success in Circuit lies / Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth's superb surprise


Narrator, Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--

This quotation advises that although one should tell all the truth, one should do so by indirection so as not to overwhelm the recipient.

15.

There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away


Narrator, There is no Frigate like a Book

The speaker praises the power of literature as a vehicle for gaining knowledge and broadening one's horizons. Here she asserts books can transport people to faraway lands better than ships can.

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