10 Most Famous Poems by Emily Dickinson

10 Most Famous Poems by Emily Dickinson

 

Emily Dickinson is considered among the greatest poets in English literature. She is known for her unusual use of form and syntax; and for being “The poet of paradox”. Dickinson was a prolific writer and created nearly 1800 poems but only a handful of them were published during her lifetime. Here are 10 of the most famous poems by America’s leading female poet.

 

#10 “Faith” is a fine invention

Number: 185

An often quoted poem, ‘”Faith” is a fine invention’ gives insight on Dickinson’s views on religion and science. While calling faith an invention and putting it in quotation marks suggests that the poem is pro science yet the ability for only some to ‘see’, or possess a kind a divine power, contradicts that. No wonder Dickinson is famous as the “The poet of paradox”. She goes on to add that it is wiser to use ‘microscopes’, or science, in an emergency.

Poem:-

“Faith” is a fine invention

For Gentlemen who see!

But Microscopes are prudent

In an Emergency!

 

#9 Much Madness is divinest Sense

Number: 435

‘Much Madness’ begins with a paradoxical line which equates madness to divine sense. Dickinson talks about the insane society which treats individuality as madness. If you agree with the majority you are sane but if you raise objections you are considered dangerous and need to be controlled. The madness versus sanity theme of the poem can also be interpreted in various other ways adding to the popularity of the poem.

Poem:-

Much Madness is divinest Sense –

To a discerning Eye –

Much Sense – the starkest Madness –

‘Tis the Majority

In this, as all, prevail –

Assent – and you are sane –

Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –

And handled with a Chain –

 

#8 Tell all the truth but tell it slant

Number: 1129

In this poem Dickinson presents truth as a powerful entity whose dazzling brilliance can bring this world to an end. Hence she suggests that it would be wise to tell the truth but ‘tell it slant’ and to gradually ease it into the world.

Poem:-

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 —

 

#7 Success Is Counted Sweetest

Number: 67

In this poem Dickinson uses the image of a victorious army and of a defeated soldier who is dying. Through this image she conveys that success can be understood best by those who have suffered defeat. The popularity of the poem lies in the fact that unlike some of her other poems which talk about losing in romance, ‘Success Is Counted Sweetest’ “can be applied to any situation where there are winners and losers.”

Poem:-

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

 

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of victory

 

As he defeated – dying –

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonized and clear!

 

#6 Wild nights – Wild nights!

Number: 249

‘Wild nights – Wild nights!’ is widely discussed for its implications. It doesn’t tell a story but is an expression of wish or desire. Dickinson uses the sea as an image for passion. It remains one of the most popular romantic poems written by an American.

Poem:-

Wild nights – Wild nights!

Were I with thee

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!

 

Futile – the winds –

To a Heart in port –

Done with the Compass –

Done with the Chart!

 

Rowing in Eden –

Ah – the Sea!

Might I but moor – tonight –

In thee!

 

 

#5 If I can stop one Heart from breaking

Number: 919

This simple and often quoted poem by Dickinson talks about the deeds one can do which will insure that one’s life was not is vain.

Poem:-

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain ;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

 

#4 I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

Number: 465

In “I heard a Fly buzz” the narrator is on his or her deathbed in a still room surrounded by loved ones. Everyone is awaiting the arrival of the ‘King’. The figure of death appears as a tiny, often disregarded, fly with a ‘stumbling Buzz’. It comes between the narrator and light and then the narrator ‘could not see to see’ or is dead. The poem remains one of Dickinson’s most discussed and famous works.

Poem:-

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air –

Between the Heaves of Storm –

 

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –

And Breaths were gathering firm

For that last Onset – when the King

Be witnessed – in the Room –

 

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away

What portion of me be

Assignable – and then it was

There interposed a Fly –

 

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –

Between the light – and me –

And then the Windows failed – and then

I could not see to see –

 

#3 I’m nobody! Who are you?

Number: 288

In this poem the narrator considers that being nobody is a luxury and it is depressingly repetitive to be somebody, who like a frog has a compulsion to croak all the time. The most talked about detail of Dickinson’s life is perhaps that only 10 of her nearly 1800 works were published during her lifetime and she lived her life in anonymity. This and the fact that the poem is about the popular subject of “us against them” makes it one of the most famous poems written by Dickinson.

Poem:-

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you — Nobody — Too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!

 

How dreary — to be — Somebody!

How public — like a Frog —

To tell one’s name — the livelong June —

To an admiring Bog!

 

#2 Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Number: 712

Many of Dickinson’s poems deal with the themes of death and immortality; and this is the most famous of them all. In it Emily personifies death as a gentle guide who takes a leisurely carriage ride with the poet to her grave. According to prominent American poet Allen Tate, “If the word great means anything in poetry, this poem is one of the greatest in the English language; it is flawless to the last detail.”

Poem:-

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

 

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

 

We passed the School, where Children strove

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 –

 

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

 

#1   Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Number: 254

The most famous poem by Dickinson, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” is ranked among the greatest poems in the English language. It metaphorically describes hope as a bird that rests in the soul, sings continuously and never demands anything even in the direst circumstances.

Poem:-

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.


1 Comment

  1. Curtis Stotlar October 18, 2017
    Reply

    “After Great Pain” has long been a favorite.

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