Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays.

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crash’s law.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Crumbling is not an instant’s Act


  1. Ronnie says:

    The word, “devil”, makes this spiritual. The rest is easy to see.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks to All for commenting – appreciate your thoughts
    I too read this poem in HS – now reading her biography
    A genius who shows us the mysteries of life

  3. N Sullivan says:

    “Fundamental”, “elemental”, and “formal” –these descriptors of “Devil’s Work”, one in each stanza uniting the poem, are chilling in their scientific detachment. “Crash’s Law” becomes a grim take off on scientific principles and mathematical rules (such as X’s Law, the Law of Gravity). The word “crash” carries a bit of an “accidental” connotation that ED challenges. No accident, a crash follows an accumulation of little “slip”s (“slipping”, 12). Putting the Devil into this implies both that little slips are evil and that evil exists in the middle of all our busy-ness, work, and thoughts. The words “processes” and “organized” and “consecutive” add to this sense of evil always calculatingly at work, always elbowing in in the form of any not quite right short cuts — “The Devil is in the Details”? The word “Cuticle” used here requires a good dictionary but the idea of a little chip or cut in an unimportant place destroying the whole is also fitting.
    What kind of Crumbling and Crash can this poem apply to? Surely to the sudden revelations that destroy a character, as we are so used to reading about in the news and in historical muckraking. Also to personal, psychological breakdown, as is so often assumed in reading this poem as if it is “Just another Dickinson depression piece.” But so many impersonal and cold adjectives emphasize the public and institutional crash over the personal and psychological. Surely little individual misdemeanors count in a social or economic or political system. Those little cheats and quick and dirty solutions are
    not forgivable errors of individuals. They involve the “Soul”, and that is individual, but they bring down a world too as each is a “Borer in the Axis” (7). This image conjures a picture of the world, a globe spinning on its axis. So one individual stretch of ethical or moral boundaries can have devastating global consequences.
    This timely poem could be applied to current financial crashes as well as to the way the War in Iraq keeps going and seems to be bringing down (“crumbling”) the country’s reputation, economics, and functioning although it was built on apparently deliberate deceptions. This poem is a guide to the way an institution and an individual become corrupt and, of course, being Emily Dickinson, can be applied to any seemingly sudden “Fail”ure.

  4. Alex says:

    “Slipping-is Crash’s law” it means that u dont crash suddenly. u have to slip. its the law for crashing. (if that makes sense) “Crash’s law” just refers to the fact that it is the only way to crash/fall/fail. It’s a law of nature (well, practically)

  5. Allen Polson says:

    Does anyone know what “Crash’s Law” refers to?

  6. Mike Verona says:

    Amen. I did a report on this poem in High School at the age of 17…when I thought I knew about life. Living life has brought me back to ED’s writing and specifically to this poem. At 35, I have “crumbled” a few times and she is right…it is not an instant’s act. You crubmble after months or years of tiny chips falling away.

  7. Adam Smith says:

    I think this poem is incredible because it contains so much basic truth. people don’t suddenly fail. The don’t one day wake up and they are alcoholic. Or suddenly in bad physical shape. Things happen slowly, and because of that we can see things coming over time, to ourselves and to others. So the poem contains an observation that is extremely invaluable for guiding a human existence.

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