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Analysis and comments on Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- by Emily Dickinson

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Comment 43 of 385, added on March 8th, 2012 at 12:58 PM.
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Comment 39 of 385, added on July 21st, 2011 at 1:31 PM.
Re: line 2

the word *lies* is used as a verb in this line, not as the noun *lies*
(meaning an untruth). Because this is poetry she takes the liberty of
re-ordering normal English syntax in order to rhyme with surprise. So this
line really says "Success lies in Circuit" where circuit is referring to
the roundabout way one should proceed to be successful in conveying truth
to others. Regarding the capitalization, main nouns were frequently
capitalized back then.

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Comment 38 of 385, added on November 4th, 2010 at 12:00 AM.
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Comment 37 of 385, added on April 24th, 2010 at 10:37 AM.
The Truth and the Light

Elizabeth's reading (#31, 32) is right on, except line 3, where she writes
"inform" instead of "infirm".

My reading: The whole poem is using several analogies to explain that the
whole Truth is best told "slant," or indirectly. First, the circuit (or
lap) of a racetrack: Truth is successfully explained by several partially
revealing truths, or "lies"; only after several incremental attempts is the
Truth understood. Like a teacher explaining a difficult idea, it takes
several times, and is often best explained indirectly.
Second, light: the Truth is "bright," "superb," "like lightening," and can
"dazzle." Because we humans have "infirm Delight," we are incapable of
understanding all the Truth at once; we are like children who cannot be
told directly what lightening is but must have the Truth "eased" to us with
"explanation kind." You don't tell a 3-year old everything about static
electricity; you give her a partial, incomplete explanation, and hope to
explain it better when she is more mature.

As for what Truth means, this applies generally to understanding the whole
truth about many things, as Mr. Ramzo noted. Yet the poem strongly suggests
she is particularly talking about God, for two reasons. First, the last 4
lines compare an adult explaining lighting to "the Children" to Truth
revealing itself to "every man". To put it simply, adult is to children as
Truth is to mankind. Put that way, Truth sounds an awful lot like God.
Second, she is referencing the Bible in three ways: direct quote, the
analogy of light, and the idea of telling the truth slant. The analogy of
light is used in opening of the book of John (1:9) to explain God's
self-revelation in Jesus, "the true Light, which lighteth EVERY MAN that
cometh into the world" [emphasis mine]. The quote is from the King James
Bible, the only English version used in the 1800's, and shares the poem's
exact language: "every man." Also, the main idea in the book of John is
that Jesus reveals the Truth, but indirectly: he reveals God's glory not
with terrifying power, but with humble love; he talks about the Kingdom of
Heaven not directly, but by parables; he sets up the Kingdom not by killing
his enemies, but by letting his enemies kill him. In short, Jesus is the
ultimate example of telling all the Truth, but telling it slant, the
Truth's superb surprise. The theme of blindness is also all over John.. but
I must stop there.

That's was a long post, but I hope you find it useful. btw, the fact that
it takes this much time to unpack just a small piece of a short, 8-line
poem shows that Dickinson was a master, and underscores the value of poetry
if we take the time to think on it.

Brendan Payne from United States
Comment 36 of 385, added on March 22nd, 2010 at 10:34 PM.
The Truth is powerful

In my experience, people have different ways that they regard Truth. To
some, truth is a delicate flower which must be treated delicately and is
entirely enjoyable for its beauty. To some, truth is like treasure which
is to kept hidden, shown only to very few, select persons and only at rare
moments. To some, truth is a club to be wielded as a weapon to beat others
with. I believe that Emily Dickinson was speaking directly to this view of
how to handle Truth. She is telling the reader that just as righteousness
without mercy is corrupt and tyrannical, Truth is to be handled with love
and kindness and regard for the person or people who are the listener(s).
I work right now with a person who is very proud of how blunt he is, and he
is absolutely committed to facing the Truth on all occasions and letting
the chips fall where they may. While I understand his point of view, he
doesn't have any co-workers who care to be around him! Well, I showed him
this poem because I want him to know that it is rarely necessary to be
"blunt" in order to make your point, it is better to consider how the other
person may hear what you say. It is written, sometimes the lesson taught is
not the lesson learned!

Mr, Razmo

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Information about Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --

Poet: Emily Dickinson
Poem: 1129. Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: 1955
Added: Jan 9 2004
Viewed: 10927 times
Poem of the Day: Dec 17 2002


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