Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated — dying —
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Success is counted sweetest


  1. beatriz says:

    i think this poem is about how the losers know the meaning of victory better than the actual winner. success cannot be realized without the first knowing that desperation that comes with losing.

  2. Jordie says:

    The thing that most people don’t realize about this poem is that she wrote it at the time of the civil war. I’m not claiming to be an expert on Emily, but if you take this into consideration the poem can be interpreted a little bit easier and with more clarity.

    To me she’s saying that those who won a battle, the purple host of brave men, can’t count their victory as sweet as those who were defeated. because the man is dying, the victory seems sweeter to him, he values it more because he did not win it. You want what you can’t have more than you want what you already do.

    I hope people can understand what I’m trying to say, sometimes I confuse myself!

  3. Hannah and Kirsten says:

    Uhmm…You are wrong.Ok, Duh she’s trying to say success is counted sweetest to people who don’t succeed. But you have to be stupid to think winners dont feel success. You probably desended from the convicts of Great Britian.

  4. Ryan says:

    In the poem “Success is counted sweetest” I think that this poem is about “appreciation” of successes. The most successful don’t always “appreciate” it as much as those who work every day to make ends meet, yet find comfort in small things. The most successful might seem to appreciate it because of the fine things they have, or the victor might seem to appreciate it because he’s still living and receives the praise, but most times they are just too used to it to actually appreciate it. A person on their deathbed appreciates life much more than a person celebrating. All things that make life worth living is a gift, and everyone should appreciate the small things, even if they are few and far between.

  5. Aaron says:

    Alright, this poem isn’t exactly hard to grasp. Taylor pretty much covered it all. I must say that the Purple Heart idea, though a neat idea, is wrong on account of the time gap between the writing of Emily Dickenson and the appearance of the Purple Heart as a decoration of honor. Dickenson wrote Poem 67 (“Success is counted sweetest…”) around 1859. The Purple Heart didn’t come into service until 1917. It is also interesting to note that the poem was written before the Civil War, which began in 1861. As for the purple host then, purple has always been a sign of royalty and success, so the purple host could then mean the succussful portion of the populace.

  6. Taylor says:

    I have taken the time to break down the three stanzas of Emily Dickinson’s poem and have come to multiple conclusions about them all. But all of them have the same basic message, in any way you interpret it.

    The first stanza gives you a mix of messages, and doesnt bluntly come out and say anything of what you should be processing about the message and the poem itself, but once you understand the poem and if you look closely you realize that she is telling you exaclty what she wants you to get out of this poem. She shares her interpretation of success in the first few lines, and then elaborates on it more throughout the next few stanzas.
    It is telling you that success is meaningful to those who do not get it often. They are able to appreciate it more, than someone who is constantly succeeding in life.

    Stanza two elaborates more on where she understands this from.
    The appretiation of success is not being brought out through the winner; they do not care as much because they are used to succeeding and believe they will have more success to come. They do not realize how much they have because its never been takin away from them.

    The last stanza doesnt necessarily sum it all up which confuses you and leaves you pondering the whole message, but it does end her thought process so that you can somewhat see what she is meaning through this.]
    The one who has lost (or did not succeed) can hear the winner gloat and is getting frustrated and hurt inside. The winner is holding the triumph on the outside but being “sympathetic” while all along the loser can tell and see that they do not understand the true value and happiness that they have just earned.

    I believe this poem relates to a game, in a sense that they have a flag, and when they retrieve the falg from the obstacles surrounding them, they have succeeding with triumph. (This game could relate you back to something such as capture the flag). Where as, you retrieve the flag from the people surrounding you and trying to grab a hold of you while you stand strong just to tear you and your hopes down … just as people do when they are looking for succession wether it is earned or only gained by nothing.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone else’s opinions about this poem, the relationship of this poem to the war, and purple hearts, like a purple host, is extraordinary. It really made you think and put yourself in a different position of the poem and determine new, and better interpretations and meanings of the poem, and life itself from Emily Dickinsons point of view.

  7. danno says:

    correct me if im wrong i’ve just started studying poetry today, but isnt it trying to say the winner didnt feel the success?? but the loser appreciates success more even tho being triumphed… n e ways i hope im not too far off …

  8. Severen says:

    Different writing styles and various literary devices are used by the author to distinguish the
    themes in the poem. The first stanza is emphasized with punctuation and hyperboles. This stanza
    is telling the reader general information about success which can be applied to any context. The
    opening line used, “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.”, gives the reader
    the feeling that any person who is striving for a goal, desires it the most. In the next two lines, the
    reader is asked to remember the sweetness of success and that it is only obtained through the
    “sorest need.” “Sweetest,” and “sorest,” are hyperboles which stress the personal desire for
    greatness. Success is pictured as nectar which represents immortality to live on and is the first
    clue that this poem is not just about the Civil War. There is no punctuation in the second stanza.
    This verse is the most significant of the poem. On face value, it is describing the futility of the
    Civil War since neither side wins when one country is at war with itself. “Not one of all,” tells the
    reader that neither side of this battle knew who the winner was. However this stanza has three
    words capitalized and they are, “Host,” “Flag,” and “Victory.” Again if the poem is about the
    Civil War, the Host is the image of the country, the Flag represents the battle and the Victory
    stands for the northern victor. If Dickinson is writing metaphorically, these three words have
    different meanings. The “Host,” may refer to God, the “Flag,” is your soul as it goes onto
    Heaven, and “Victory,” is the cry of angels that greet you. In the third stanza punctuation re-
    appears with the use of hyphens around the word dying and the exclamation mark at the end. The
    use of hyphens is to make the reader pause at the end of an assonance phrase which emphasizes
    the idea of dying. This could be the “defeated,” death of a soldier on either side of the battle or
    your own death at the end of your life. The literary devices used in the last stanza are
    personification and irony. Personification is used to describe the “forbidden ear,” which prevents
    the dying soldier to hear who won. The cry of victory is describe ironically as “Burst agonized and
    clear!” since triumph in battle should be a happy event and not painful.

  9. Lamar Cole says:

    Life becomes so much sweeter for a person who is in love.

  10. naureen says:

    i agree w/ brad n the guy from iceland’s comments regarding the poem… people often take things for granted… a victory to a winner means nothing, only the defeated can explain the success/happiness associated w/ a vitory… For example, a person accustomed to getting A’s will not be as grateful in receiving another “A” or even an “A-” as say someone who has never received an “A.”

  11. Oliver Hageman says:

    Emily could have had success as a poet in her lifetime if she chose…however…she chose “immortality”….she knew she was gifted and preserved her physical identity which, in time to come, made her even more mysterious and sought after…she was willing to lose the battle in order to win the war…and she went for the whole enchilada…

  12. anry says:

    Well, when i first started reading this poem, i don’t understand the really meaning of it. But after i read it over and over again i sort of have ideas what the meaning of this poem. Dickson present the idea of success that is everyone have to face. It’s not easy as we peel ripe banana. In fact, in our life ” Sucessful” is really meaningful and very chalenge to everyone. Of course, this one word mean softer and sweeter but it’s deepful meaning doesn’t presence as itself presence here.

  13. Kelsey says:

    I think this poem is speaking of war time, and how the acheivement of success often affects the “losers” more than the actual victors. To win is a great thing, but to lose and keep trying is even greater.

  14. Brad says:

    I think this poem is a call to us all for “appreciation” of our successes, our lives, and that which God gives us. The most successful don’t always “appreciate” it as much as those of us who toil every day to make ends meet, yet find solice in small things; a child’s smile, a small raise, a freebie, a gift, etc.. The most successful might seem to appreciate it because of the fine things they have, or the victor might seem to appreciate it because he’s still living and receives the accolades, but most times they are just too used to it to actually appreciate it. Just ask the man dying on the battlefield how much he appreciates life, much more than the man celebrating with a cigar and waving his flag, I assure you. All things that make life worth living are gifts, appreciate the small things, even when they are few and far between. Appreciate them all as if you’ll never see them again, and appreciate those around you that don’t seem to find those small victories in life more than you admire the celebrities, the rich and famous, and the victors.

  15. Shadae says:

    In this poem I beleive Emily is describing success. It shows you that those of us who acheive success aren’t that focused on it. Because once you defeat one stage there is always a step above it that your going to try to beat next. However those of us who didn’t reach success, cherish it more because you don’t have yet and your anticpating on that victorious moment. So you keep striving for success.

  16. Amber says:

    Dickinson sees achievement and success as being sweet and compares it to one of the sweetest fruits of nature. She is respecting success by relating it with something from nature, which is successful and perfect in her mind

  17. Jacob says:

    This poem describes something that you cant really explain only to feel and experince. Victory is the feeling that she is describing here. To understand this thought you need go out and find a challenge to experince what she wants.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I think this poem is about desire that humans feel for what they do not have. The defeated understands the meaning of victory more than the victor because the victor does no longer needs to struggle for success and therefore does not understand its worth. Naturally, a person who won a battle does not comprehend the glory of the achievement as much as the soldier that is dying- loosing not only the battle, but his life. The pride that the winner feels in not as intense as the dying soldier who hears the triumphant shout bursting “agonized and clear.” This is described as torture.

  19. GWB says:

    Using a poetic shock by depending on these paradoxical relationship”success,failur or nectar,sorest”makes the meaning clearer and nobodycan tell you what is freedom and civilaization better than us.

  20. Zach says:

    Since nobody has taken the time to write a comment on this poem, I thought it would be my duty too. This poem is very deep and has alot of meaning for me. Those who have never won, can appreciate victory most, which is something i think we all can find in within ourselves. Emily had lost so many close family and friends and tells how those dying and dead truly know what it is to taste the “nectar” of success. To relate this to modern times, one could say this is the cry of the Boston Redsox, a team drowned in defeat, perhaps maybe they understand what it is truly to win.

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