Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —


  1. kayla says:

    Tell me how does this poem have any thing to do with religion. I don’t see the connection….

  2. Jerry Garcia says:

    does anybody else think that reading emily dickinson in school is a complete waste of time

  3. Sango says:

    At first I literally thought that Ms. Dickinson about truth. But after redaing it I see that it is partially about God and that he’s probably not real. The first thing I noticed about the poem is that she capitalized truth every time she wrote it. I have to thank my english teacher for making me read this.

  4. Angry Bob says:

    I read this poem in mr. Kruclis class and i thought it was fun

  5. ncase says:

    I’ve heard the first line of this poem quoted a lot as an explanation of storytelling: that it is more powerful to tell a story where the “deep truth” you are trying to tell appears out of the corner of the reader’s eye, rather than banging the reader over the head with it. In its original context, the line is at least as much about religious truth being taught straightforwardly vs. by example (via parables, for instance). But the point remains the same: whether we are literally made blind by Truth thundering down at us, or are “blinded” momentarily by blunt-nosed moralizing, we can more easily absorb truths and allow them to change us if we take them in sideways.

  6. Huggermugger says:

    To say that Dickinson was not brilliant is to understand nothing of poetry. What we have here is pure excellence, not one word too many, not one there without reason.

    Everything in this poem does make perfect sense but only – and this is the crucial point – if interpreted correctly.

    True, on the surface this poem may discuss truth and that we often try to avoid it because it can be unpleasant.

    Yet poetry is intimate. There is no understanding of great poets without understanding their character, at least to some degree.
    For Dickinson, in order to realize her brilliance, one has to become her.

    Now here is my interpretation of the slant truth and I want to give you my reasons why I believe it is the correct one and why then her carefully chosen words do make perfect sense:

    A) Dickinson was raised, kind of against her will, to believe in Christianity. However, when old enough, she abandoned her belief altogether.
    B) Note how the truth does not have a connotation of good or bad. That opposes the notion that Dickinson is talking about truth in general. Why should a truth that is described as “too bright for our infirm delight” be a negative one and if it isn’t negative why should we not welcome it?
    Well, I believe she is talking about religious truth, God, Jesus, their existance so to speak.

    C) Her choice of words confirm my previous asumption. God and his message are “bright”, so is Jesus, his radiant image. Then there is the reference to being blinded. Well, those of you who are familiar with the bible might remember the healing of the blind man: “I was blind, now I can see”.

    What brilliant sarcasm lies hidden in Dickinson’s lines: What if men would finally see that God and Christianity was a farce? (“The Truth’s superb surprise”).
    What if they had been blind and learned it all of the sudden? They would be without divine guidance and like “blind man”. Hence this recognition has to occur gradually:
    “The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind — ”

    Like in the case of the children who learn that lightning is not caused by an irate God up in heaven but is as a matter of fact a scientific phenomenon:
    “As Lightning to the Children eased
    With explanation kind”

    And for those who believe falsely that because Dickinson was depressive she was unable to do what she did, I urge you to check out scientific articles on the correlation of psychological illnesses and intellectual genius.
    Einstein, my friend, was not normal. Had he been, he would have not done what he did. Neither would have many other scientists and artists.

  7. Tifany Night says:

    This is a really good poem

  8. Katie says:

    Never be 100% forthcoming with the truth, always vere around it. Why? b/c the truth is often something that takes us by suprise, that we are unprepared for and often not willing to deal with. Like a parent who rather tell a child that the angels are bowling in heaven rather than explain what lightning really is, b/c it neither comforts nor consoles a scared child during a thunderstorm, instead offer a kind explanation that will put their mind at ease. Unfortuantely the truth often times has to be appealing enough to actually be told, it has to “dazzle” in order to be acceptable. Even still, what kind of truth is that? Or every man be blind…so she says. I have to wonder if Ms. Dickinson isn’t revealing to us the truth in her own round about way.

  9. Yasmine Raslan says:

    Everyone wants to know everything and all the truths. But not everyone can handle all truth. Sometimes it’s best to not know than to know anything.

  10. Mr. X says:

    Emily Dickinson was definately not briliant. She spent her life in seclusion merely writing about her estranged life. Just because she is cryptic(Who wouldn’t be living in seclusion?) doesn’t mean she is brilliant. Her poems often speak of death and other morbid thoughts. SHe obviously was tangled up in waves of manic depression. If Emily Dickinson is considered brilliant, our society has truly decayed to unsafe levels.

  11. Shelly says:

    I think her poetry is brillant!! She is one in a million her poems are always baaised upon Truth in some shape or form.

  12. Eric says:

    After reading all the other comments, I’m afraid that mine will seem a bit, well, pedestrian. I’ve discovered that this poem can easily be converted into an Irish country song. There, I’ve said it.

  13. Anna says:

    The first thing I thought of after reading this poem was Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” in which he describes ignorant people as living in a dark cave, and the process of coming out to the sunlight is a gradual one. For Plato, those able to look at the sun were the philosopher kings. Both Plato (Socrates) and Dickinson recognize the necessary time it takes to come to a full understanding of the truth. I wonder if Dickenson was directly referring to the “Allegory of the Cave.” The line “The truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind” seems so similar to Plato.

  14. CJ says:

    Emily Dickenson, though very much anti-social had a great understanding of human behavior and way of life. Her poem “1129” has an odd and informal tone, almost like a pastor preaching his Sunday morning sermon. The central theme “truth” can be viewed as the existence of genuine deeds. I think to Emily there were none. The first line means to attempt to tell all the truth but as a steady progression. Telling the truth in kinds of increments allows people to learn from experience and slowly achieve knowledge needed to be efficient and successful in life. Personally, I think this applies to child development, the forming of friendships, and the interaction with professional relationships.
    As a child, parents try to protect their child’s innocence for as long as possible. However, growing into adolescence is a long process that allows things to set and settle in a child’s mind. Take for instance death and sex; parents always try to sugar coat issues that they think a child wouldn’t comprehend. The child’s curiosity often catches their parents off guard and is just introduced to the subject matter. When dealing with death, parents frequently use that their Grammy and Pappy are sleeping, or the use the phase of a “long vacation.” When it comes to sex, parents often use the story of the stork; how it brought children from a factory in heaven and dropped the kids off at the doorstep. As Dickenson wrote, “The truth’s superb surprise…As Lighting to the Children eased.”
    Next, Friendships are based on trust, honesty and dependability. Healthy friendships allow people to reach a comfort level and gain confidence in themselves. But there is a stage that people go through during elementary school up to high school and even sometimes for the rest of there life. They tend to befriend people for either an authentic friendship or their own personal benefits. It’s very rare that people don’t have an alterative motive. An important aspect in growing up is how we deal with intimacy. Intimacy has a myriad of emotions. Often time people use cause and effect to make someone feel significant; it raises their level of self esteem. But, living a life in disguise, living untrue to yourself just to fulfill a social status or simply fit in doesn’t allow you to live a gratifying life.

  15. Oalf says:

    If you anylize this poem after reading biographical information about Dickenson, it seem obvious that she is using Tuth in a religious sense (sepecially Christianity. She is saying that the reason preachers tell the truth sideways is because the real truth would blind, or perhaps that is sarcastic and she means the real truth would open the eyes of the congregation. Read more of her poems and you’ll discover her sarcasm toward religion.

  16. Alex says:

    It is impossible to tell the entire truth while avoiding directly stating what the truth itself is… or so one would think. But Emily Dickinson crosses this seemingly paradoxical statement with her poem “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –.” From the poem’s first line, the same as the title, she begins to draw the reader into the concept of telling the truth in a roundabout way, and by the end of the poem, her words themselves are convincing enough to make one believe each and every carefully-chosen syllable. However, not only does the poem say to circuitously tell the truth, but the poem itself follows its own preaching, and in a roundabout, but coherent manner, reveals the truth it’s been aiming towards all along.
    The first line, “tell all the Truth but tell it slant –,” essentially draws the reader towards the subject matter (1); and with that line, Emily Dickinson carefully declares what she wants her poem to say. However, with the potential ambiguity of the word “slant,” for it could mean skewed, never to reach the object, or roundabout, carefully skirting the edge until you’ve reached the object, or something completely different to countless other individual readers. Her first line is an exercise in itself, and is a synecdochic example of its own truth.
    Continuing with her slanted truth, Dickinson then begins to specify her point by focusing the tactics of slanting the truth to those of “circuit,” or simply by taking a circuitous route. She then guardedly gives a reason for the indirect route, in that the “superb surprise” of the truth is “too bright for our infirm Delight,” or simply that we are incapable of taking the entire truth as a surprise (4, 3).
    Then, as a way of tying everything together, she introduces the image of lightning, and likens her own point to that of describing lightning to children. But the likeness of the methods isn’t the most important part of her juxtaposition, it is the idea of blindness and brightness that ties the poem into a coherent piece. For her final, blatant statement of the truth, the end of her slanted way of approaching it, reads thus: “The truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind –” (9-10). The blindness caused by the instant revelation of the truth is akin to the brightness of truth’s superb surprise, all of which are held together by the image of a bright flash of lightning. This final revelation is analogous to the termination of the circuitous route to truth-telling.
    This comprehension achieved at the end of Dickinson’s poem proves itself, for the simple fact that the reader reaches that conclusion without fully understanding it, or simply dismissing it, proves the conclusion they reached to be true. For the fact that Dickinson’s circuitous route caused the truth that a circuitous route is necessary to truth-telling proves the effectiveness of the circuitous route. The simple difficulty of understanding that idea displays Emily Dickinson’s successful use of word choice and structure, in that she encompassed her complex idea in simply eight lines.

  17. joy says:

    at first i thought this poem is very weird. however, after reading several times, i believe that this poem is talking about that truth does not always cause delight because it is revealed. The lies that were covered by not telling the truth can cause displeasure.People either have to be blinded by lies, or know the truth.

  18. Chelsie says:

    I think Dickinson is saying that the truth needs to be told gradually with a calm, mild attitude. The poem refletcs her love life..with all the men she loved. These men abrubtly told her that they did not love her–this scared her. Too much truth at one time is a scary thing. In this poem, there are many contradictions..this may come from her confusion.

  19. Anonymous says:

    When i was first asked to comment this poem i also thought that the idea was pretty simple, i never thought i didn’t think i might need other information about the poem or the poet, but when i read a bit more attentively i noticed a certain doze of sarcasm…i don’t know, that was how it seemed to me, perhaps she doesn’t belive in people telling the truth…be it abrupt or slant…i guess it could be interpreted as a non-belief
    I’m sorry for my grammar mistakes…but i’m a foreigner

  20. Jennifer says:

    What are you talking about? This is a good poem. Haven’t you ever had someone lie to you? Haven’t you ever felt that you learned too much of the truth at one time and were just overwhelmed by it? That’s what the poem is about!!! It’s about telling the truth but yet picking the moment to tell the truth and not overwhelming everyone by telling them all of it at once.
    In real life, you can see how people we consider ‘successful’ have had to lie at least a little to get up to the top. It’s a good poem and I think that it applies very well to the world today.

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