Poetry Wednesday: Tell it Slant, Emily

A friend once told me that Emily Dickenson’s poetry was like something Wednesday Addams might write.

And while I’d argue that Christina Rossetti* would be a closer match to Wednesday’s style, I get the point:  Emily Dickenson’s stuff  might be whimsical, but most of it ain’t light-and-fluffy whimsical.

I mean, even that bird of hers bit that poor anthropomorphized** worm in half.   And there are times when her penchant for layered thought doesn’t quite fit the bill.

But I like her poems anyway, or most of ‘em—she wrote over four hundred, so there’s something in her oeuvre for almost everyone, even those of us who prefer not to dwell on our own mortality, thanks so very much.***

And I can’t help but adore her definition of poetry:

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”


I’m not going to bother with a biography today—there are a million of ‘em out there written by far more articulate people and I stayed up way too late last night trying to bend characters to my mighty will,^ so I’m even less articulate than usual.

But look her up if you have a minute—she was a fascinating woman who may or may not have led exactly the life she wanted.  And her poems are over 125 years old and still being read and interpreted and quoted.

So no matter what some talking ducks might think, the lady clearly had it going on.

Here are a few of her verses that speak to me, or at least speak to me today^^—it varies.   If I’ve missed one of your favorites—and odds are, I have— please share them in the comments.

Share two, they’re small.  Or at least compact.

Tell All The Truth
(Emily Dickenson)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

A Word
(Emily Dickenson)

A Word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

The Brain
(Emily Dickenson)

The Brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

I Lost a World
(Emily Dickenson)

I lost a world the other day.
Has anybody found?
You ’ll know it by the row of stars
Around its forehead bound.
A rich man might not notice it;
Yet to my frugal eye
Of more esteem than ducats.
Oh, find it, sir, for me!

(Emily Dickenson)

Remembrance has a rear and front,—
’T is something like a house;
It has a garret also
For refuse and the mouse,

Besides, the deepest cellar
That ever mason hewed;
Look to it, by its fathoms
Ourselves be not pursued.


Sheldon® is one of the best webcomics ever produced, and Dave Kellett is its brilliant and essentially non-litigious creator.  Revere him.


*Who gets my personal vote for the Thomas Hardy Mental Funk Award

**I might be exaggerating (and showing off) just a tad . . . But that line still seems a bit too nature red in beak and claw to me.


*** Plus, most of them are short, so when things get weird, at least they aren’t weird at length—which, especially after tackling Dante Alighieri, can come as something of a relief.

^Actually, I was bending the laws of  elevator physics while trying to ignore the fact that everyone is wired for instant communications.  We all came to an agreement in the end, I think—I finished up so stinkin’ late I’m afraid to look.

^^No deep psychological mysteries here . . .


8 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: Tell it Slant, Emily

  1. Yay for Poetry Wednesdays! I love Emily Dickinson, but I don’t think I would have got along well with her. She would have asked what I write, I would have told her everything I try and write ends up being adventure romance, and she would have nodded and said “Mmm” in that way people do when they don’t like your answer and then it would have been all awkward. ^_^

    • Do you think so? None of the bios I’ve read have mentioned what she might have read for entertainment, besides poetry—for all we know, she had a big stack of adventure romances and caper crimes on her bedside table.

      In fact, that’s just the kind of escapism a retiring near-hermit might want to have at hand . . . So I think she would have asked us in for coffee and a chat and afterward written nice, if obscure, verses about us, tinged with just a bit of melancholy that we couldn’t stay for dinner . . .

    • I was just going to say I think she and I would have gotten along swimmingly. It seems as if she wrote for herself, not for publication, and that, in itself, makes her feel familiar.

      • I think you’re right, MSB. You and she both seem to express yourselves from a sense of contemplative self-containment (in a good way) . . . Reflections, as it were. 🙂

  2. To Tell the Truth- what a wonderful writer manifesto. I need to print that out.
    I’ll have to check with my sons, but I believe it is commonly accepted that in order to bend someone (I’m certain this applies to charaters as well) to your will, you must wear a cape, underpants and a sword of sorts (as last night proved a long, cardboard gift wrap tube will suffice). The underpants go, as I suspect you know, on your head.
    I don’t know the wwrangling involved, but in case it applies, most people lose their cell phone service in the elevator of my office building. Eleven floors up, and the concrete blocks it, methinks.

    • That’s probably my favorite of her poems, Lyra.

      Thanks for the reminder about elevator reception . . . and never mind what I wear when I write . . . 😉

  3. Spent a couple of semesters studying her in college. The one that always stuck with me was “I heard a fly buzz when I died”, but there are so many it’s hard to pick a favorite (or favorite of the moment).

    You actually have writing clothes? Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong!

    • I like that one, too! i wonder if that’s where my fondness for dashes originates? It’s not an addiction, it’s an homage.

      The only designated item of writing “clothing” I wear are my headphones. The rest just . . . happens. Or doesn’t . . . Never mind.

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