Emily Dickinson’s poem “I measure every Grief I meet” is about suffering and how humans deal with their myriad hardships. In the first stanza, Dickinson presents herself as something of a grief scholar. She carefully tries to investigate and quantify the anguish that she comes across.
Her fascination with grief leads to lots of questions. In the first stanza, she wonders how the weight of her grief compares to the burden of other people’s grief. In the second stanza, she wonders about the duration of people’s sorrows. Some people’s grief might be new. For other people, such as Dickinson, their grief “feels so old.”
In the third stanza, Dickinson wonders if some people’s misery is so great that they’d prefer to die. In stanza 4, Dickinson notes that certain people seem to have successfully combated their grief. They can “renew their smile” and be happy. The sharp mood shift between stanzas 3 and 4 creates contrast or juxtaposition. However, the word imitation could make one wonder if the smiling people are truly happy.
In the fifth and sixth stanzas, Dickinson continues to doubt whether grief is surmountable. She speaks in a rather hyperbolic tone, using terms like thousand, piled, and centuries. The dramatic diction underscores the deep consequences of grief and why Dickinson is unsure that a grieving person can acquire genuine happiness.
In the seventh stanza, death returns. This time, death is downgraded somewhat. Dickinson doesn’t depict death as singular or exceptional but as one of the “various” causes of grief. The imagery of nails in this stanza might allude to Christ and elements of his crucifixion.
In the final three stanzas, the Christ allusions continue. The banishment in stanza 8 possibly reflects Christ’s ostracism. The Calvary in stanza 9 refers to the site where Christ was crucified. In stanza 10, the mention of “the Cross” explicitly incorporates Christ and his suffering. The story of Christ seems to bring Dickinson comfort. In a sense, Christ took on the suffering of others. The notion that humans can share their grief appears to supply Dickinson with a bit of solace.