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Analysis and comments on No Man can compass a Despair by Emily Dickinson

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Comment 1 of 57, added on March 2nd, 2010 at 8:17 PM.
Basic Analysis

This is my basic analysis. I know people are always saying NOT to pick
apart a poem when you analyze it but that's the only way I can analyze. I
just want to remind you that this is MY analysis and you don't have to
agree with it - in fact it might not even be correct.It's just what I
think and people often tell me that I think wrong but anyway here it is:

First Stanza ("No man...proceed -")
Here I think the speaker is saying that no one can understand how bad it is
to have no aims or goal whatsoever in life. If you think of compass as
"drawing a circle" (which is stretching the definition a bit), you can see
that it would TRACE the "goalless road" and, for me, trace seems to be
equal to understand. The speaker then says how slowly the travel is, which
I'm guessing means how hard it is to motivate yourself to do anything if
you don't have goals. Basically, no one understands how painfully slow the
time passes when you are sad had how you have to labor (since the root of
traveller is "travaillour" which means laborer in French) through this
horrible period one step at a time.

Second Stanza ("Unconscious of...the One")
This person can't think much farther than a few steps (or miles along the
road) ahead of where he is - he can only mark his progress that he has made
that day, how many steps he has taken. He meticulously records his progress
at the end of the day when the sun sets but he doesn't realize that the sun
is setting on his progress as well, that is, the sun is erasing whatever he
has done. Essentially, the speaker is saying that this man is trapped in
this vicious circle of dispair for life now - it is endless.

Third Stanza ("An estimating...along"):
I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "An estimating pain" but im guessing
its along the lines of a "Judging pain," maybe a pain from judgement? The
man judges himself harshly and is thus erasing his own progress, maybe. Now
we know the speaker has sympathy with the man, because "whose own" implies
that the speaker has felt this pain and is familiar with the man's current
position. Then the last two lines, i believe, are saying that the man's
lack of knowledge about his future is what sustains him because he thinks
possibly every day that maybe tomorrow my life will become better. I think
"the Angel" is added because the speaker believes that even if the man does
not have a messenger to guide him, he will still survive and persevere.
This suggests that the man did something un-holy which caused him to be so
sad or depressed. This makes sense because then the whole "Pain from
judgment" idea fits, since he may have been punishing himself too harshly
for going against God.
I guess that the man's "ignorance" about his future gives him a sliver of
hope, and that is all he needs to survive and continue walking along this
sad, aimless road.


Anusha from United States

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Information about No Man can compass a Despair

Poet: Emily Dickinson
Poem: 477. No Man can compass a Despair
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: 1955
Added: Jan 9 2004
Viewed: 5691 times
Poem of the Day: Mar 23 2004


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