In the poem "Success is counted sweetest," what can a soldier of the "purple Host" not do?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This excellent poem by Emily Dickinson explores and explains the ironical nature of comprehending success. According to Dickinson, success is only something that can be fully savoured or understood by, ironically, someone who does not succeed. Note the way the second and third stanza gives an example to support this argument by referring to a victorious army, the "purple Host," who wins a battle, yet cannot understand and comprehend success as much as a "defeated" and "dying" soldier who lies on the ground, listening to the victory celebrations of his enemies:

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of Victory

Thus, Dickinson argues, a victorious army is not able to "tell the definition" of their "Victory" or understand the nature of their success compared to their defeated enemies. To really understand success, Dickinson seems to argue, you have to paradoxically not attain it.

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