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Date Posted: 13:48:13 03/21/04 Sun
Author: Tinker
Subject: Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant

Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant

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---
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Summary: The whole truth should be told, but when telling the truth be careful to tell it in a way that the listener can accept. Truth in its purest form is so brilliant it must be given with explanation or gradually or it could cause damage or be rejected. It brings to my mind Jack Nickelson’s line from A Few Good Men --- “Truth, you want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!”

Meaning and Themes: Exposing truth, is like looking at the sun, and must be done indirectly, or it can cause blindness.

Form: The poem is a Double Ballad Stanza, which is defined as a short lyric narrative. An octave made up of 2 quatrains written in alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter employing a rhyme scheme of abcb with an internal rhyme in the 3rd and expletive line. There is no punctuation accept the ellipsis at the end of the 1st and 8th lines, the lack of punctuation is typical of Emily Dickinson’s work. The form was not apparent to me until I started taking the poem apart in explication.

Title: The title is the first line of the poem. Emily Dickinson didn’t title most of her poems, so the first line was used as the indicator or title by publishers, after her death, to identify the different poems.

Tone: The tone is reflective.

Words: The word choices of this poem are efficient (grasping whole concepts in a single word) and powerful. The poet uses capitals to give even more power to certain words and to emphasize and personalize the words such as Truth, Circuit, Delight, Lightning, and Children. She gave these words not just importance but a character, a name. The word choice of “Circuit” intrigued me and forced me to look up the meaning, which began the explication process. “Success in Circuit lies too bright for our infirm Delight.” I was struck not only by the efficiency of each word but in discovery found connections between the words, I would not otherwise have recognized. I include definitions at the end of this commentary.

This small poem holds much richness to be uncovered. Alliteration, assonance, consonance and simile enhance its richness. The poet obviously is a master of her craft.

The Epiphany is in the last 2 lines, the bottom line, “man can’t handle the truth unfiltered!”

The Poet: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), 19th century, American poet is described as “ probably the greatest female poet of our language” Donald Hall, To Read a Poem.
Born to an academic family, she appeared energetic and outgoing while attending Amherst Academy and Holyoke Female Seminary but returned from school to become reclusive (reasons why, speculative but unknown). She did have friends with whom she communicated through letters, often sending poems. And, she met a man on a rare trip to Philadelphia, who sparked her attention. But after a brief time, he left for the west coast leaving her heartsick.

Her isolation, is thought to have influenced her lack of use of punctuation. She wrote her poems for herself, therefore the punctuation to guide the reader was unnecessary. She spent her time caring for her home and writing poetry, until her death at the age of 56 of Bright’s disease ( an obsolete term for chronic kidney disease).

Only a handful of her poems were published while she was alive and those were without her permission. She is known to have written over 1700 poems, all but those few, were published after her death.



slant : late Middle English noun : 1. the slope or inclination of a think or piece of ground 2. a short oblique line or surface 3. nautical slight breeze
slant : verb : stike obliquely on or upon or against . lie or move in an oblique position or direction, slop, deviate from a straight line or course

circuit-: Old French; noun; 1. a line that encloses an area 2. a space enclosed by a line, an area, an extent 3. a time during which a disease runs its course 4. the action of going or moving around or about, a circular journey, a course through intermediate points back to the staring place, a roundabout journey or course

infirm : late Middle English adjective : weak, unsound, unable to resist pressure or weight; frail, feeble

delight : late Middle English from Old French: noun: 1. the fact or position of being delighted, pleasured, joy or gratification felt in a high degree 2. a thing which or person who causes great pleasure or joy, a source of delight
verb: 1. give great pleasure to 2. be highly pleased

lightning : Middle English noun : 1. the sudden bright light produced by electric discharge between clouds or between a cloud and the ground

children : plural of child : Old English, noun : 1. fetus, an infant 2. a boy or girl, in Biblical translations: youth approaching or entering into manhood 3. a youth of gentle birth (titled) 4. a person who has or is considered to have the character, manners or attainments of a child, a person of immature experience or judgment 5. a pupil

truth : Old English noun : 1. the character or disposition to be true, steadfast in allegiance, faithfulness, loyalty, constancy. 2 faith, trust, confidence 3. disposition to speak or act truly or sincerely, honest, honorable, upright, virtuous. 4. fact, facts, the matter or circumstance as it really is 5. the real thing, as distinguished from a representation or imitation, 6. true statement; report or account consistent with fact or reality

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