Did life’s penurious length
Italicize its sweetness,
The men that daily live
Would stand so deep in joy
That it would clog the cogs
Of that revolving reason
Whose esoteric belt
Protects our sanity.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Did life’s penurious length


  1. warren leming says:

    Dickinson takes a look, obliquely (these were deep Victorians-) at the idea of chastity, and finds it not worth the wait. The short lives of the Victorians, abetted by the American Civil War with its 620,000 dead, had degraded longevity. Dickinson lived a long, hemmed, claustrophobic life-topped with a father who stifled her every attempt to live. The poem is a great cry for help. A help which never came. She had become infatuated with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, but the affair never moved beyond her own thwarted attempts at presenting her desire to him. Penurious length: a reference to the paucity of love,and the emotional poverty around her. Tragic and yet beautiful, like so much of Dickinsons work.

  2. Jeff Shapiro says:

    I understand this poem to say that, IF we were moved to joy by the shortness of life, our rationality would be overcome, and we would lose our sanity [since it is so short]. Underlying this, I believe, is the notion that it’s shortness, in reality, is the danger to calm reason.

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