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Analysis of Emily Dickinson's "If I can stop one heart from breaking."


Emily Dickinson's poem "If I can stop one heart from breaking" emphasizes the value of compassion and selflessness. The speaker aspires to alleviate others' pain, suggesting that even small acts of kindness can give life meaning. The poem reflects Dickinson's broader themes of empathy and the moral importance of aiding others.

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What literary devices are used in Emily Dickinson's "If I could stop one heart from breaking"?

This short poem by Emily Dickinson comprises seven lines and has an ABABCBB rhyme scheme. The meter of the poem is also irregular, with the first line having a pattern of stresses equivalent to iambic tetrameter, while the next line has only three stressed syllables. The third line also has four beats, but we then see a return to shorter lines with only three key stresses.

In the first line of the poem, Dickens uses the idiomatic metaphor of a broken heart. This is a phrase very commonly used in English, but it is nevertheless an example of figurative language: the speaker cannot stop a heart from being literally damaged but may succeed in preventing the heart from being metaphorically broken by grief. The speaker is very dedicated to her task of keeping these hearts figuratively intact: her statement that she "shall not live in vain" seems almost a vow, as she uses the imperative "shall" rather than the softer "will." This seems a careful choice of formal diction, lending gravitas to the vow.

The speaker does not specify whose "aching" or "pain" she is most dedicated to preventing. On the contrary, her desire to "ease" is universal; if "one pain" is cooled, she will have made a valuable contribution in life. The image of the "fainting robin" being restored "unto his nest" is another metaphor: the robin is not meant literally, but serves to represent even the smallest or most seemingly insignificant person who may need assistance, which the speaker is happy to provide.

Parallelism in the structure of the poem serves to emphasize the fact that only one "aching" or "pain" or "fainting robin" needs to be helped in order for the speaker to feel useful. Repetition of the statement, "I shall not live in vain," provides a sort of envelope for the center of the poem, encapsulating the details of the speaker's vow. The speaker dedicates herself to figuratively "cool[ing]" whatever pain she finds in the world.

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

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

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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What is the thesis in "If I can stop one heart from breaking," by Emily Dickinson?

Emily Dickinson's poem, "If I can stop one heart from breaking," provides a clear insight into the kinds of things that the author genuinely cared about. Though she traveled very little from home, Emily Dickinson had a remarkably perceptive view of the world—a world which inspired her beautiful poetry.

If I were looking for a thesis statement regarding this poem, I would study first to the main points of Dickinson's verse.

Her focus is on three things:

If I can stop one heart from breaking...

If I can ease one life the aching...

Or help one fainting robin / Unto his nest again...

In these three lines, we see that Dickinson concerns herself with a wide variety of interests: she looks to nature, she refers also to one's breaking heart, and finally, she concentrates on the quality of a person's life.

Because Dickinson does not list these things from most important to least important, we might assume that to the author, all three are equally important in her eyes. She also tells the reader that her own satisfaction comes from helping others: that another's wellbeing is enough to not only make her feel happy, but to provide her with a sense of personal value in life. The concept that seems of primary significance is that helping others, if she can, will be the most important legacy she could leave behind when she dies.

When we stop to consider these things, this seven-line poem says much more than we might notice at first glance.

With all this said, my own thesis would have to reflect the sense that Emily Dickinson placed a higher value upon the wellbeing of others, rather than her own personal satisfaction, which shows her to be generous and selfless in her desire to see the world a better place.

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

From the poem itself, it is not evident that Dickinson is trying to help anyone specific. Therefore, it is possible that she's saying that if just one person is impacted by her poetry, she "has not lived in vain."

It's important to take a step back here, however. When reading poetry, we must make sure that we do not just assume that the poet is the speaker of the poem. The speaker of a poem is similar to the narrator of a story. That being said, I think we can make the case that Dickinson herself, is speaking here.

If we make that choice, we can tell by her word choice, or diction, that she doesn't mean anyone specific. For instance, in the first line, she says, "If I can stop one heart from breaking." She uses the word "one," rather than "your" or someone's name.  She also uses "heart" and "life" as what she's trying to save, which are very general terms to the concept of humanity. She does however, become specific in talking about the robin. In that light, we can further our case that she's being general about humanity.

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