Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedTell All The Truth But Tell It Slant Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-- | Summary



This didactic poem, written in Dickinson's usual ballad meter, gives a clear, simple lesson about telling the truth. One must tell all the truth, but one must tell it indirectly. By being somewhat circuitous, one meets with more success. The surprise of truth can be too bright, too startling, for occasionally weak human comprehension. Just as adults gently explain the phenomenon of lightning to easily frightened children, truths must be conveyed gradually, for to do so suddenly would be too much for people to take all at once: they would be blinded—or hurt—by the light of truth.


The speaker, like the poet, holds truth in high regard. A keen observer of everything around her, Dickinson does not flinch from describing grim realities of nature and of death. As she does elsewhere in her poetry, Dickinson here represents "Truth" with light, as her diction in this poem reveals: "bright," "Lightning," and "dazzle." But the writer of "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—" and "Because I could not stop for Death—" must certainly have known too much truth all at once can be hard to take: too much sudden light can "blind."

The poem contains diction that is playful in its use of sound: the sibilance in the second line—"Success in Circuit lies"—slows the line down, as does the internal rhyme in the third line and the juxtaposition of the similar-sounding words "superb surprise" in the fourth. Finally the paradoxical idea that something can "dazzle gradually" is highlighted by the assonance of those two words.

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