Tell all the truth but tell it slant: An Analysis

February 8, 2024 | by poemread.com

Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant byEmily Dickinson light

Welcome to our literary exploration of Emily Dickinson’s timeless poem, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

In this blog post, we’ll analyze the words of Dickinson’s verse, uncovering its layers of meaning. The poem is a contemplation on the delicate balance between truth-telling and perception. So, join us as we navigate the rich imagery, beautiful metaphors, and thought-provoking themes that make this poem a timeless classic.

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

The subject of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

The subject of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell All the truth but Tell It Slant” revolves around the idea of truth-telling and the subtle way it should be delivered. The poem suggests that while truth is important, it should be conveyed indirectly or gradually. Furthermore, the poet suggests that direct exposure to the full truth can be overwhelming or blinding to some.

Dickinson uses the metaphor of explaining lightning to children as a way to illustrate this point. She emphasizes the importance of revealing the truth to people in a gradual manner.

The persona, or narrator, of the poem is not explicitly defined. However, Dickinson herself or a universal voice can be the one reflecting on the nature of truth-telling.

The narrative is presented in the third person. Thus, this can be an observation of the concept of truth-telling from a more detached perspective.

Furthermore, the setting of the poem is not specified. However, there is vivid imagery of a lightening and flashy atmosphere.

About the author of “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, an American poet of the 19th century, wrote this poem. She was relatively unknown during her lifetime. However, she is now considered one of the most important poets in American literature. Dickinson led a solitary life, spending much of her time at home and rarely going out into the world. Despite her seclusion, she maintained a rich inner life, engaging with literature, science, and theology throughout her life.

Moreover, her works often reflected a unique style, including irregular punctuation, capitalization, and unconventional writing. Dickinson is famous for her mysterious poetry, with themes such as death, nature, and the human experience.

Influences for “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Several factors could have influenced Dickinson to write, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” One key aspect is her interest in the complex nature of human experience and feelings. Throughout her poetry, Dickinson explores the themes of emotions, thoughts, and truths. In addition, she often discusses the subjective nature of reality. This poem reflects her understanding that truth can be multifaceted, and that people may perceive it differently based on their individual capacities.

Further, Dickinson’s deep engagement with philosophical and religious questions likely contributed to this theme. She was skeptical of conventional religious beliefs. Also, she raised questions about the nature of existence and the afterlife.

Themes of the poem

The poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson explores several themes:

Truth: The primary theme of the poem revolves around the concept of truth-telling and the manner in which truth should be communicated. Dickinson suggests that while truth is essential, it should be conveyed indirectly or gradually rather than being presented bluntly or directly.

Perception: The poem also speaks about how different individuals perceive or understand truth. Here, the poet highlights the subjective nature of accepting truth. Moreover, Dickinson acknowledges that truth can be overwhelming or blinding to some, indicating the importance of considering the audience’s capacity for understanding.

Communication: Another theme present in the poem is the nature of communication itself. Dickinson explores the complexities of conveying truth effectively, suggesting that communication requires sensitivity.

The tone of the poem

The tone or mood of the poem is contemplative and reflective. Dickinson’s use of imagery and metaphor invites readers to consider the deeper implications of truth-telling and communication. In addition, there is a sense of caution in the tone, as Dickinson emphasizes the need to approach truth with care. Overall, the mood of the poem is thought-provoking, encouraging readers to reflect on the complexities of truth and perception.

The form and structure of the poem

The poem has a structure of two stanzas, each consisting of four lines. Thus, it is structured in quatrains, with each stanza forming a complete unit.

The dashes at the end of lines 1 and 8 indicate pauses. These dashes serve to create a sense of emphasis or interruption, drawing attention to the central message of the poem: the importance of conveying truth indirectly.

Therefore, the poem classically features Dickinson’s characteristic use of dashes and unconventional punctuation. While there is little conventional punctuation, such as commas or periods, dashes are used throughout to create pauses and emphasize certain phrases or ideas. The absence of traditional punctuation contributes to the poem’s distinctive style and adds to its unique quality.

The rhyme and rhythm of the poem

In terms of rhyme, the poem follows an ABCB rhyme scheme in both stanzas, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyming (“slant”/”delight” and “lies”/”surprise”). The poet’s choice of rhyme scheme adds a sense of cohesion and musicality to the poem while allowing for variation. The consistent rhyme scheme contributes to the poem’s overall sense of balance and harmony.

Line-by-line analysis and the poetic techniques used in of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”

Line 1: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

The opening line of the poem immediately sets the tone and theme. It introduces the central idea of truth-telling with a subtle approach. The use of the imperative verb “Tell” commands attention, signaling the importance of the message to follow.

Here, “slant” serves as a metaphor for presenting truth indirectly or obliquely, rather than in a straightforward or direct manner. Dickinson invites the readers to take into account the complexities of human perception and understanding.

The use of “slant” implies a deviation from the conventional or expected approach to truth-telling. Instead of presenting the truth head-on, Dickinson advocates for gradual revelation and understanding.

Furthermore, the term “slant” evokes the image of something tilted or angled. It can imply that the truth can be perceived from different perspectives.

Line 2: “Success in Circuit lies”

In this line, Dickinson employs a phrase that is quite difficult to understand. Here, we can interpret the word “circuit” in several ways. It might refer to a circular route or path, suggesting that truth is most effectively conveyed through an indirect approach. Here, the poet takes away the linear quality of truth.

Second, “circuit” could refer to a circular route or path, implying that truth often comes in full circle, returning to its point of origin but with added depth or understanding.

Additionally, “circuit” may also allude to an electrical circuit, where energy flows in a continuous loop. In this context, the line suggests that truth is a dynamic force that circulates and resonates, affecting individuals in varied and interconnected ways. Just as electricity follows a circuit to power different components, truth permeates through society, influencing perceptions and shaping understanding.

Join us as we analyze the meaning of Emily Dickinson's "Tell all the truth but tell it slant," Explore its timeless wisdom on truth-telling and perception.

Line 3: “Too bright for our infirm Delight”

In this line, Dickinson uses juxtaposition to contrast the brightness of truth with the fragility of human delight. While the term “bright” infers a sharp and brilliant light, “too bright” refers to something overwhelming and blinding. This highlights the discomfort or unease.

The use of “infirm Delight” personifies human delight as fragile or weak. The overpowering nature of truth and the vulnerability of human emotions are in conflict of interest. This line underscores the idea that too starkly revealing the truth can be unsettling or distressing.

Line 4: “The Truth’s superb surprise”

Here, the employment of alliteration with the repetition of the “s” sound in “The Truth’s superb surprise,” creates a musicality. The word “superb” conveys the grandeur or magnificence of truth, suggesting that it holds a remarkable or extraordinary quality. The phrase “surprise” adds an element of unexpectedness or revelation, implying that truth possesses a revelatory quality that can astonish or enlighten. This line reinforces the idea that truth is not only powerful but also awe-inspiring in its revelation.

Line 5: “As Lightning to the Children eased”

In this line, Dickinson employs a simile. She parallels explaining lightening to children with the act of revealing the truth. The poet dilutes the imagery of the sudden nature of lightning by bringing it up as a soft and gradual explanation. The term “eased” brings about a sense of relief.

Furthermore, the poet emphasizes that truth, like lightning, can be both dazzling and enlightening when presented gradually or with explanation.

Line 6: “With explanation kind”

This line continues the comparison introduced in the previous line, emphasizing the importance of providing a gentle or kind explanation when revealing the truth. The phrase “explanation kind” suggests a compassionate or considerate approach to truth-telling, highlighting the necessity of accompanying truth with understanding and empathy.

Here, Dickinson underscores the idea that trust is best understood when conveyed with compassion.

Join us as we analyze the layers of Emily Dickinson's "Tell all the truth but tell it slant," Explore its timeless wisdom on truth-telling and perception.

Line 7: “The Truth must dazzle gradually”

Here, Dickinson reiterates the central theme of the poem, emphasizing the necessity of revealing truth gradually rather than all at once. The use of the verb “dazzle” conveys the idea of brightness or brilliance, suggesting again the power of the truth. This line is nothing but a further repetitive reinforcement of the poem’s key message.

Line 8: “Or every man be blind —”

The concluding line of the poem underscores the consequences of failing to convey truth gradually. Dickinson employs hyperbole, exaggerating the potential outcome by suggesting that everyone would be blinded if the truth were revealed too abruptly. This hyperbolic statement serves to further emphasize the importance of the poem’s central message. The use of the dash at the end of the line creates a sense of emphasis and finality, reinforcing the gravity of the poem’s conclusion. Finally, the poem itself is a universal truth, conveyed softly and indirectly about the consequences of not following empathy when telling the truth.


The poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson gently reminds us that truth can sometimes be too dazzling or overwhelming if presented directly. It suggests that the truth should be shared gradually and with kindness, like explaining lightning to children. The narrator seems cautious but compassionate, conveying a sense of empathy towards the complexities of truth-telling.

Perhaps the poet’s intention is to encourage thoughtful consideration of how truth is communicated. The target audience could be anyone who seeks to understand the nuances of human interaction. It’s unclear whether the perspective is solely Dickinson’s or represents a broader societal view. Reading the poem evokes feelings of contemplation, prompting readers to consider the delicate balance between truth and understanding.


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