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

25 Comments

  1. 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…

  2. 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.
    thanks

  3. 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.

    Thanks,

    Best regards,

    Mr. Shahenshah
    Language Trainer
    Dubai
    shahenshah.dxb@gmail

  4. 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.

  5. Melissa says:

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

  6. qiusong says:

    it’s wonderful

  7. silvia says:

    I like the poem so much . I think she mean how much we important till we are close to death .when we hear the callto rise to the sky with God.

  8. Jo says:

    I’m merely stating that to those people who think she is talking about drugs, there is no proper way to recite (“repeat aloud from memory”) drugs.

  9. Heather says:

    I believe that this poem is very true and inspiring. I play softball and this makes me think of a time i was asked to play a more difficult position than i was used to and i did great! I did better than i had before! I pushed myself as Dickinson explained and I rose to the occasion. Dickinson explains that we never know what we can do until we push ourselves and actually try your best and with everything you got. You might be surprises and don’t be afraid to do great!!!

  10. Bob says:

    i heard this poem in a movie once… hehe… im bored…. i have to write a poem on a famous poet…. im bored again…. hehe…..

  11. steve says:

    This poem was quoted by one of the characters in the movie Seabiscut. Great movie and great poem! I don’t think the main source of inspiration for the poem was herion. It doesn’t fit the rest of her poetic content. Emily wrote about LIVE, LOVE, and NATURE…
    Steve

  12. JK says:

    Haha, although some STONERS out there would think it an awesome poem about drugs, they most obviously would not have described it as “getting high” in the 1800’s, lol…ur digging deep, just not in the right direction! Lol…

  13. Chynna Joy says:

    This would have to be one of my favorite poems written by Emily Dickinson. The meaning of this poem may be different for different people, but to me I think Emily Dickinson is talking about how we don’t discover our own potential and strengths until we are forced to by being pushed.

  14. LG says:

    I have always understood this poem differently than most others address it:

    To me, it is saying that we don’t know the depth of our capabilities until we are forced by circumstances to rise to the occassion.

    We are always capable of doing more, if we push ourselves.

    I do not believe that the second stanza refers to humility at all: I think that Emily is criticizing our reluctance to push ourselves, to take charge, and to lead. The feats which we consider to be heroic, could happen every day if we exerted ourselves.

    “Warping the cubits” refers to what we actually put forth, not just our attitudes toward it.

    “Fear to be a king” addresses our insecurities, and fear at assuming such a responsibility or honor.

  15. aeny says:

    This is not about being on drugs! and those of you who think it is, have very shallow thinking. why don’t you go a little deeper, and analyze the poem!

  16. ba$ak says:

    tomorrow probably, we might have an exam about it :))

    we don’t know our true potential until we are asked to meet new challenges. we never really feel high until other people call us to rise.
    “skies” symbolizes limitless possibility.
    we don’t take credit for our success. the praise has to come from other people for us to feel truly proud.

    noone could care about our heroism if we weren’t modest and tried to downplay the whole matter.

    that’s all…. 🙂

  17. joe says:

    some people need to look up the key words they don’t notice… the first key word being stature, which is defined as being status gained by growth, development, or achievement… not someone’s physical height…. the second being cubit, which is a form of measurement… now to my interpretation…

    We always SAY we’ll act a certain way when faced with a particular situation, but we sometimes don’t do what we said we would when that possibility is realized.
    If we do act according to our plans, or in what i like to think of as our values, then we see ourselves as better people for having done what we consider is right. we consider ourselves “heroes”.
    “Fear to be a king” basically means fear of being someone that everyone notices.
    The courage we display by sticking to our word would be a common thing for us if we didn’t worry about how many people ridicule us for going against the majority’s beliefs.
    For you people who don’t look at the poem very closely, IT’S NOT ABOUT GETTING STONED!!!

  18. Kari says:

    This poem is not about drugs. When she used the term heroism, she was referring to being a HERO. Look deeper.

  19. Anna says:

    I seem to think there were a few word changes in the poem. That or there is more than one version. The version posted here uses the word “asked” in the 2nd line.. when the version I am familiar with uses the word “called” in the 6th line this version uses the word “normal” when I believed the word “daily” to be used. Either way the poem has the same awesome meaning. THAT IS NOT ABOUT DRUGS lol

  20. Amber Collier says:

    this poem is crazy i think it tells alot about life and what it is like to be on drugs

  21. Shelby Bell says:

    This poem is not about drugs. It is about we dont know how high we are until we die.

  22. Barnaby Lancaster says:

    Emily Dickenson was reffering to drugs in this poem, AGAIN. Her use of the word heroism is reffering to a drug called heroin and she is telling us how she never knew she could get so high.

  23. Era says:

    Very inspirational poem. Stand up and be counted, soar like an eagle, rise to the occasion. Don’t let fear paralyse you.

  24. Joseph says:

    I love this poem! To me, it’s a simple definition of humility:
    We never really feel “high” until other people call on us to “rise”. In other words, one would not feel really proud if one’s pride came from within: the praise has to come from other people for us to feel truly proud.
    And, enjoying this humility, and being “true” to God’s “plan” for us, “our statures touch the skies”.
    “The heroism we recite” is one’s exploits and one’s deeds that one talks about. It would be a “a daily thing”: no one would really care about them. That is, no one would really care if not for one condition: “did not ourselves the cubits warp”; a cubit is an ancient unit of measurement used a lot in the Old Testament and warp means to “change for worse”. In other words: no one would care about our “heroism” if we weren’t modest and tried to downplay the whole matter. And “for fear to be a king” is just the explanation: we would “warp the cubits” for fear of being arrogant.
    GREAT POEM!

  25. Vianney says:

    This is my very favorite poem. I love it. I think it means that we don’t know how good we can be at something until we actually do it, and that it’s worth our time to do things that we’ve never done before.

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