What is the theme of Emily Dickinson's poem "How Happy is the Little Stone"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem by Emily Dickinson suggests that it is much easier and more enjoyable being a small, inconsequential object overlooked by everybody else than it is to be human and to have all the responsibility and obligation that comes with that identity. A little stone, Dickinson suggests, doesn't have to worry about "Careers" or the various "exigencies" that plague us as humans. Note how Dickinson ends the poem to cement her argument that the "little stone" is much happier than humans:

And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity—

Dickinson implicitly sets up a comparison between the life of a human and the life of a stone, and finds the life of a stone much easier and more simple than the life of a human. A stone is able to fulfill its "absolute Decree / In casual simplicity--", or fulfill its purpose simply and without any confusion. This poem suggests that the life of a human is far more complex, and that the speaker is struggling to do exactly what she envies that stone for doing so easily. The stone is independent of itself and able to fulfill its purpose without the various worries and concerns that plague humans. Dickinson sees this and finds herself intensely envious of this simplicity.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Despite its surface simplicity, Emily Dickinson's poem "How Happy is the Little Stone" is thematically complex. In the poem, the narrator is reflecting almost wistfully upon the happiness of the stone she is portraying. As the narrator is human and the stone is not, this brings up the first theme which is a contrast between humanity and nature. 

From a religious point of view, Dickinson's contrast between humanity and nature invokes the theme of Original Sin, in which humanity is fallen and nature is not. Thus the stone is described as "Fulfilling absolute (i.e., divine) decree" simply and easily in contrast with humans, who must struggle to live a moral life due to their fallen nature.

Another theme is the virtue of simplicity. The stone lacks human vanity, and it does not need to worry about choosing clothing or having a career. Unlike humans, who must struggle to make choices in their lives, the stone is personified as content with its own nature. Thus the nature of the stone suggests that we might be happier if we attempted to emulate the simplicity of the stone.

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