What are the two things being compared in the two lines below from Dickinson?"Narcotics cannot still the Tooth/That nibbles at the soul"

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Dickinson is comparing a tooth or painful problem that keeps nagging at one's heart. The tooth is something that can cause pain by both biting and throbbing on its own because of a cavity or inflamed root. When one has a toothache, it is hard to think of anything else. Thus, Dickinson uses the tooth as a metaphor for a painful problem. That problem, like a tooth, can nibble or eat away at one's heart or mind. In Dickenson's poem the tooth is nibbling at the soul, or heart of a person. She is saying that no amount of narcotics or drugs can cover over a problem that bothers one's heart and mind.

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moderndaydame | (Level 1) eNoter

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Emily Dickinson is one of America’s most prized poets.  During her life, she wrote and published poetry that is often observant of and commentating on humanity and human nature.  Dickinson’s poetry is enjoyable to read because she has the ability to say wonderfully profound things in a very witty way.  A great example of this can be seen in her poem, “This World is Not Conclusion”.  The poem in its entirety is as follows:

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond—
Invisible, as Music—
But positive, as Sound—
It beckons, and it baffles—
Philosophy—don't know—
And through a Riddle, at the last—
Sagacity, must go—
To guess it, puzzles scholars—
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown—
Faith slips—and laughs, and rallies—
Blushes, if any see—
Plucks at a twig of Evidence—
And asks a Vane, the way—
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit—
Strong Hallelujahs roll—
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul—

Throughout the poem, there is a central theme of confusion and searching for answers.  This is evident in the very first line, which implies there is more to life than what we know; without a conclusion, the ending has not been resolved.  Dickinson uses words like invisible, baffles, riddle, and puzzles to further emphasize the feeling of confusion and uncertainty. 

It is fair to say that it is in our nature to seek answers.  The poem suggests that a possible method to resolve an uncertainty is to have faith.  Yet, in the last two lines, “Narcotics cannot still the Tooth / That nibbles at the soul –,” it strongly suggests that faith, in the form of narcotics, will not be able to dull the desire to seek out a definitive answer, in the form of a tooth, for long.


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