I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true —
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe —

The Eyes glaze once — and that is Death —
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem I like a look of Agony,


  1. My name is Sam I am says:

    This poem reminds me of the song “Vicarious” by Tool. We as humans attempt to experience death as we live vicariously through the deaths of others. Death in actuality is unfathomable by the living.

  2. frumpo says:

    Death brings out true emotions.

  3. melmal3 says:

    The “beads upon the forehead” refer to a few things. Literally, they are the beads of sweat that form upon the brow when someone is convulsing in agony. For example, when women give birth, they sweat from the intense level of pain birth produces.

    Additionally, the “beads upon the forehead/ by homely anguish strung” also give a more visual message. Imagine a string of water droplets that circles the forehead. The string of beads is like a halo, a more symbolic representation that the person who is writhing in agony is truly in the clutches of death.

  4. bob says:

    What’s up with the “beads upon the forehead/ by homely anguish strung”

    jjosh from New Zealand

    I’m guessing it refers to the sweat on your forehead when you’re in intense anguish

  5. Andrzej Samulak says:

    Dickinson often surprises the reader by shocking point of view on the matters of dying. The speaker of the poem presents physical, naturalistic and realistic description of the death. It differs from numerous spiritual descriptions. The picture is really shocking, but present truthfulness of the time of dying. The moment of the agony is the only one when the person does not deceive the others.

  6. naureen says:

    sandra, i completely agree with your statement… Also, an analogy can be made with this poem & photographs- Dickinson seems to appreciate the realistic portrayals of individuals (the candid shots) in comparison to the posed (or pretentious/fake) pictures…

  7. sandra says:

    “Auto Wreck” by Karl Shapiro is a more contemporary version of Dickinson’s poem. We are all familiar with how drivers rubberneck when passing an fatal accident. Though we rarely admit it, we are fascinated by pain and death. Partly it’s the “there but for the grace of god, go I,” sentiment. But also, our present day society hides truth from us so often that we don’t know how to act appropriately. Death and mutilation are viewed by those who work in an ER, but the rest of us watch television and imagine that we really know what tragedy looks like. Learning has been defined as a change in behavior. If we really learned the consequences of a car wreck, we’d drive differently ever after rather than continuing to drive recklessly and believing we are immortal. Dickinson tells us agony is true as opposed to the social faces we wear most of the time. She prizes the authentic, not the “Eleanor Rigby” faces that only pretend to care or pretend to be communicating with us. Dickinson was a recluse, but no doubt in a crisis, she would have been there to tend the sick or hold the hand of the dying. She appreciated those moments because only then can we be sure something authentic is being shared between people.

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