What are the literary devices used if the poem "Success is counted sweetest"?

Asked on by amy2012

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

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In this poem the speaker states that success is most valued by those who fail, just as victory in battle seems most precious to a soldier who is defeated and dying. Dickinson uses an analogy to state her claim in the first stanza:

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

Here she compares a thirsty person's appreciation of a drink to a loser's appreciation of victory, saying that the thirstier you are the more you are going to value having that thirst quenched. In the same way, those that suffer defeat will crave victory more than the victors.

She goes on to use imagery very effectively in the last stanza to seal her case:

As he defeated - dying -

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonised and clear!

Dickinson thus creates an image of a soldier dying on the battlefield (note the alliteration in "defeated - dying" which emphasises the pity of the soldier's state) who is nevertheless able to hear the victory chants and music of the opposition. He has just lost his life in vain and thus, Dickinson argues, is able to comprehend the nature of success far more than the victors.

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