We never know how high we are
Till we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies —

The Heroism we recite
Would be a normal thing
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem We never know how high we are


  1. maria stentiford says:

    I agree with most that the first part of the poem is about people not knowing what they are capable of until they are tested. .But I myself believe that the second part means that most people ,rather than fear failure, fear success.They fear to be all that they could be, because to be ‘a KING’,is scary, and could invite jealousy and malice, whereas to be no more than most people , in other words.the status quo, is much easier and safer.

  2. Joseph says:

    Unlike what most people seem to think, I do not believe this poem is about ambition or the ability to perform when pushed to your limits. I think it is about humility!

    I believe the following explanation is warranted given Ms. Dickinson’s Christian background.
    Consider the following bible passage (Luke 14:8-11,KJV):

    “When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.For whoever exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

    In these verses, Christ is saying that when people humble themselves, they will otherwise find glory from others calling them to “go up higher” or “rise”.

    In light of this passage, here’s how I read this poem:
    “We never know how high we are/Till we are called to rise” –> True glory comes from outside, from others calling on us to rise (i.e. praising us). Only then do we know our own glory: “how high we are”.
    “And then, if we are true to plan/Our statures touch the skies” –> If we are truly humble according to God’s plan, our “statures” will touch the sky: we will be glorified.
    “The heroism we recite/Would be a daily thing/Did not ourselves the cubits warp/For fear to be a king” –> When we try to glorify ourselves by talking about our exploits and merits (the “heroism we recite”) would be a “daily thing”: a normal, mundane thing no one would notice, UNLESS we are humble: unless we “warp the cubits” for fear of excessive glory (for fear “to be a king”). A cubit is an ancient unit of measure used in the Old Testament and to “warp” means to distort or transform for the worse. Thus “warping the cubits” means humbling ourselves by downplaying the “heroism we recite”.

    Just my two cents…

    • Mark says:

      Not sure you are still out there, your comments some eight years passed. But I like your take on this. It’s really her story, the quiet gal who stashed her poems in a dresser drawer. There is so much meat in her words, so much weight in her reflection. I find the like in no one else. If brevity is the soul of wit, she is the wittiest by far. Thanks.

    • Leland P Gamson says:

      Joseph, your interpretation is fantastic and consistent with Emily Dickenson’s Christian values.


  3. ciel says:

    Personally i think as do the rest, that this poem tells of how vast the human capabilities are if pushed up to reach, yet in the end i think emily dickinson means to say that we have daily successes of all kind some of which are concidered heroism, yet although we can reach higher, we put spaces and spaces between us and some great achievements in life for fear of the great responsibilities that come along or else the great harm some of those high achievements might bring to the goodness in us like our humbelness and thankfullness in life…. but thats just my opinion and anyone is free to disagree.

  4. Mr. Shahenshah says:

    This poem is a soft criticism on ourselves. It indirectly requests us to wake up, be courageous and take some bold steps towards personal, individual and collective success (for this world & the Next).

    It, inshort, conveys that believe in yourself (and your GOD), set some bolt targets followed by true planning based on action plan, and be immune to fear and possibility of failure to become a great achiever.


    Best regards,

    Mr. Shahenshah
    Language Trainer

  5. Abi says:

    I really thought this was a great poem. What she’s saying is, you never know how great you are until you push yourself and can find out what you can do. She goes on to say that we could all be great, if we weren’t scared of failure.

  6. Melissa says:

    I like this poeam. We can grow up to be strong as long as we expect ourselves to.

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