What is the tone of "Success is Counted Sweetest" by Emily Dickinson?This is for a project. I was thinking that the tone would be happy, excited, optimisitc, bright, the feel of defeat, etc. I also...

What is the tone of "Success is Counted Sweetest" by Emily Dickinson?

This is for a project. I was thinking that the tone would be happy, excited, optimisitc, bright, the feel of defeat, etc. I also have to use examples from each stanza. Any other suggestions?

Asked on by elizhood

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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It is difficult to find an absolutely upbeat poem in Dickinson's work because she focused so many of her poems on death and dying.  For what seems to be truly upbeat, you might take a look at "Wild Nights."

Even though the tone of "Success is counted sweetest" is not particularly grim, the sentiment Dickinson expresses is, and she sets the parameters of this poem in the opening lines when she says "Success is counted sweetest/By those who ne'er succeed."  And her first example is, of course, a hummingbird that truly understands the value of nectar when it is in "sorest need."

The second and third stanzas continue this theme of understanding the value of something, in this case, success, when one is in the depths of defeat.  Dickinson essentially says that victors in a battle really don't understand the value of victory, but the dying and defeated warrior who hears the celebratory trumpets of victory is the only one who truly understands victory--primarily because victory has slipped away.

In typical Dickinson fashion, this poem has a bitter-sweet component to it--true understanding of value comes with suffering. Also true to Dickinson form, the poem's matter-of-fact tone is offset by the grimness of the sentiment.

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