In "Tell All the Truth but Tell it Slant", what do you think the poem means?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is one of Emily Dickinson's poems where she challenges the norm and tries to make us see how we need to modify our approach to "truth". Dickinson uses metaphors to describe truth as a blinding light - look for descriptions such as "Truth's superb surprise", "dazzle" and reference to blindness. Dickinson thus argues that we should tell the truth, but we need to do it "slant" - or in a way that does not blind people with the harshness and brightness of its veracity. She commends us to realise that "Success in circuit lies", which means that the way to tell the truth is not in a blunt fashion but in a roundabout kind of way that does not "blind" people directly. Dickinson also says something inherent about human nature, arguing that the raw "truth" is "Too bright for our infirm delight", saying that there is something about humanity which means we find it hard to accept the truth told bluntly.

aczerepak | Student

In "Tell It Slant", American poet Emily Dickinson urges us that when telling someone else a harsh truth, it is best to do so indirectly. Dickinson states that "success in circuit lies" meaning that when we indirectly deliver truth, we are more likely to find a receptive audience.

Dickinson repeatedly points to the whole truth's potential to harm. She calls it "too bright", compares it to lightening, and warns of its potential to blind. Though Dickinson advocates telling the whole truth, she implies through the phrase "infirm, Delight" that many are unable to handle it all at once. Rather, the truth in its entirety should be delivered as lightening is explained to a child. In other words, in a way that is non-threatening and which allows us to realize it's full implications in stages rather than all at once. 

Dickinson uses unconventional punctuation to express the theme of her poem. Truth is capitalized, and thus personified, throughout. In addition, Dickinson's signature dash (-) appears in only two places in this piece, at the ending of the first and final lines. This creates a circular structure to the poem that reinforces the idea that the truth in all its blinding light should be approached indirectly.