literature A Short analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Tell every the Truth but tell the slant’

A reading of a standard Dickinson city by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘Tell every the Truth however tell the slant’ is poem number 1129 in Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems

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In various other words, we could analyse Dickinson’s poem as follows: she is suggesting that we people cannot take care of too much truth, the we, come borrow T. S. Eliot’s words, cannot bear an extremely much reality. We are imperfect creatures, and the truth is as well pure and great for our ‘infirm’, or diseased and also weak, ‘Delight’.

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Dickinson is writing prior to the expression ‘being economical v the truth’ to be coined, yet her poem raises a similar question.


Is this the exact same as flat-out lying? It would seem not, though the word ‘lies’, couched as so frequently in its potential double meaning (be supine/tell falsehoods), is over there in the poem’s 2nd line.

One of the many compelling readings that this poem was offered by an additional poet, Anthony Hecht (1923-2004). Hecht argued that ‘the Truth’ i m sorry Dickinson ad to might be construed specifically together religious truth (Jesus’ native ‘I to be the way, the truth, and also the life’ in man 14:6, for instance), and that we space not meant to recognize the ‘Truth’ that God directly.


This is why we need holy texts that attend to themselves to us in the type of riddles and also symbols.

What makes such an analysis of ‘Tell every the Truth but tell the slant’ persuasive is that Christianity is complete of such recommendations to gift ‘blinded’ by the truth. Because that instance, over there is 1 Corinthians 13:12: ‘For currently we see with a glass, darkly; but then face to face.’


Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –Success in Circuit liesToo bright for our infirm DelightThe Truth’s superb surprise

And certainly, as we can see in this opened stanza, Dickinson associates truth with light in this poem, arguing that this fact carries the potential for enlightenment, whether religious, spiritual, or otherwise.


Another of she poems begins, ‘There’s a certain Slant that light’; here, we have actually the reality being said ‘slant’, and then ‘Lightning’, arguing a dazzling, bright irradiate (the ‘Light’ that ‘Lightning’ comes to united state via the ‘light’ peeping the end from ‘delight’, which itself has arised from a sliver of light current in ‘lies’).

Indeed, the repeated open ‘i’ sound in the native Dickinson chooses to finish her present – ‘lies’, ‘Delight’, ‘surprise’, ‘kind’, ‘blind’ – contact to mental the eyes and also the prestige of the visual, of seeing the truth. (Compare, in this connection, a much previously poem, by the Elizabethan poet teacher Philip Sidney: Sidney likewise ends each of his lines v an i sound.)


And the words ‘dazzle’ and ‘blind’ in that second stanza call to psychic the idea of staring straight at the sun. Dickinson doesn’t point out the sunlight in this poem, yet this might be what she is hinting in ~ in the final two present of the poem.

But for Helen Vendler, in she brilliant publication of close readings, Dickinson

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. We’ve offered an ext tips for the close reading of poetry here.

The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and also lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. That is the writer of, amongst others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey with Curiosities that History

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 and The an excellent War, The rubbish Land and the Modernist long Poem.

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Image: Black/white photo of Emily Dickinson by William C. North (1846/7), Wikimedia Commons.