Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ModPo 2013 #2 Truth and Art: On Dickinson's "Tell all the Truth.."

Published by Harcourt. Photo taken from

Note: I am currently taking a course on called Modern and Contemporary American Poetry taught by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania. I will be posting my thoughts on the course discussions here.

Tell All the Truth But Tell It Slant
by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind—

In The Republic, Plato states that art is imitation. For him, works of art are for entertainment only and, in fact, pose a danger to society. He condemns poetry on gods and heroes as lies "and still further because their lies are not attractive” (Republic, II, p24). I thought about this as I reviewed Dickinson's poem, "Tell all the Truth."

I have to say, here, that I thoroughly enjoyed the video of the close reading. At one point I found myself agreeing that the poem felt like a statement from a politician with the emphasis on the slant vs. telling all the truth.

However, I liked how there was a connection between art and the truth at the end of the discussion. We tell stories to make sense of things... to not go blind. I thought about Life of Pi, this quote in particular: “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?"

I think this is where I might have to agree with Dickinson: as advice to a poet or an artist or anyone who needs to process the harsh and blinding facts of life. Though, I might be a bit suspicious, especially with the choice of what seem to be facetious elements: success, dazzle, surprise. Well, what is the truth, anyway? There actually only is: what is.

All in all, it was a delight to read Dickinson.

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