Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Anna from Diary of an Eccentric asked (in the comments to my 6th blogoversary post) which one is my favorite Emily Dickinson poem. I named three, and even posted a video of me singing the first stanza of one of them.
The more I thought about the poems of Emily Dickinson, though, the more I realized that this one is actually the one I think about most:
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 —
Perhaps it’s because I love the story about how Zeus came to Semele as a presence and she conceived Dionysus but then Semele (tricked by Hera) demanded to see him as he really is, and he’d sworn he’d do what she asked, and so even though he knew that the sight of his full glory would kill her, he appeared before her in his true form.
Perhaps it’s because I like the way the image of truth as a circuit plays with the idea of circling around what we know in an attempt to find truth and also makes me picture the light bulb that comes on when an electric circuit is completed.
Perhaps it’s because I like how far the play on the word “lies” can be stretched—all the way from a feeling of success in truth-telling to the feeling that one has left something out or obscured some part and so the attempt has resulted in “lies.”
Perhaps it’s because whatever “ease” is provided by knowing why something scary happens and how it works is uneasy, and because at first glance it seems impossible to be dazzled “gradually.”
For these and other reasons, the first line of this poem is in my head a lot.
It’s ironic that I circled around three other poems before realizing that this one is, in fact, probably my very favorite one.