Emily Dickinson

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What is the poem "If I can stop one heart from breaking" by Emily Dickinson about?

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Laurine Herzog eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This poem is I think an earnest, unostentatious declaration of Emily Dickinson's outlook on life and possibly also a sort of mission statement for both her life and her poetry.

Life can get rather complicated and we tend to spend a lot of our time and energy worrying about things which, relatively, really aren't that important. We worry about how much money we might make, what clothes we wear, which people we should impress, and so forth. For Dickinson, the point of life, at least the point of her life, is simply to make somebody else's even a little bit better, or easier.

She wants only to "stop one heart from breaking," or "cool one pain." This may sound rather unambitious, but it is nonetheless a laudable aim. If everybody had this as their mission statement for life, the world would very likely be a much kinder, much safer place.

Dickinson may have had her mother in mind when she wrote this poem. Her mother was left paralyzed by a stroke for the last seven years of her life and was cared for by her daughters, including Emily. Emily later wrote about her mother, in a letter to a friend:

“When we were Children and she journeyed, she always brought us something. Now, would she bring us but herself, what an only Gift.”

This quotation captures the same selfless, altruistic sentiment that is expressed in the poem. Dickinson, it seems, considered it an honor rather than a duty to be able to "cool one pain."

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mitchrich4199 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This poem is essentially about Dickinson's wish for her poetry. If you look at her life, she was very secluded and very isolated in nature. Her body of work was enormous and really, that was all she had. I've always looked at this particular poem as an answer to someone who had questioned her about why she wrote. She had such a clear understanding of humanity, yet she was so isolated from it herself. This poem serves as a response to those who questioned her motives.

I think her love of nature is also shown in this poem. While she didn't write for the "fainting robin," animals certainly served as characters or references in many of her poems.

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