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

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Comment 39 of 426, 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 426, added on November 4th, 2010 at 12:00 AM.
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Comment 37 of 426, 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

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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: 11979 times
Poem of the Day: Dec 17 2002


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