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Who is the "purple Host" in Emily Dickinson's poem "Success is counted sweetest"?

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In Emily Dickinson's poem "Success is counted sweetest," the "purple Host" symbolizes a victorious entity, possibly a conquering army or any triumphant group. The terms "purple" and "host" are associated with divinity, suggesting success as divine favor. However, Dickinson suggests that those who achieve success comprehend it the least. The true understanding of victory is more profound among those who lack it, as they comprehend the absence of success.

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The "purple Host" of the poem is a symbol of whoever has met with success today; it could be a conquering army, as seems literal, or it could be any person or group that has triumphed, figuratively. The references to purple and host are both associated with the divine, and so perhaps Dickinson implies that whoever has meets with success enjoys something that feels like divine favor. However, she claims that the successful actually understand success or victory the least. Those who are victorious cannot properly define success, because they do not understand its opposite. Those who feel the "sorest need" of success—those who lose or lack it—understand victory better than those who achieve it because they know how it feels not to.

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In "Success is counted sweetest," Dickinson writes:

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of victory

In this context, "purple Host" refers to a conquering army, which, having defeated its enemy, captures its flag in victory.

In the ancient world, particularly during the era of the Roman Republic, purple was the color both of royalty and of victory. Victorious generals would wear the toga picta, a solid purple toga decorated with gold, as a symbol of their success in battle.

Dickinson is drawing a contrast between those who know success and those who know failure, and making a statement about which of the two would appreciate success more. Dickinson makes her point by using the image of a victorious army in contrast with a dying, fallen soldier. She is inferring through this image that only the dying soldier fully understands and appreciates victory. In the same way, she is saying that only those who have known failure can fully appreciate success.

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What does "purple host" symbolise in Emily Dickinson's poem "Success is Counted Sweetest"?

After researching many scholars' opinions on the notion of the "purple Host" in Emily Dickinson's poem, the truth of the matter is that we can only speculate the true meaning of its symbolism.  However, because of the time period of the poem and the surrounding context, we can have a pretty good idea.

Here is the stanza of text that reveals the image:

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

Emily Dickinson spends the entire poem exploring ideas through their opposites.  In this case, she is talking about the idea of "victory" specifically in battle, which it can be assumed is in reference to the victory of the Northern Army in the Civil War.  The image of the "purple Host" has two words within it, so let's take each in turn.

First, the word "purple."  Throughout history (especially early history), the word purple was meant to symbolize royalty.  Long ago, in England, it was the most coveted cloth because the dye could only be made by grinding tiny sea snails.  So we can say that Emily Dickinson might want us to think about the "royal" nature of those who were victorious, the North, "who took the flag today."  However, purple can also be used to represent the bloodshed in battle.  Therefore, because the "Host" is "purple," perhaps it was a battle that wasn't easily won.  Nevertheless, the "purple Host" will still have not as good of an understanding of victory as the losing side.  So, perhaps, we can also say that Emily Dickinson might want us to think about the "bloody" nature of those who were victorious, the North, "who took the flag today" ... and not easily.

Second, the word "Host."  Here we need to explore three different meanings behind this metaphor for the Northern Army:  the Host is in charge, the Host has won the battle, and the Host can even be considered holy.  A "host" at a party is the person who has invited the attendees.  If you take this particular symbolism, then it was a bloody battle that the North won on their own turf.   Possible.  Now let's take the idea that the word "Host" is actually capitalized.  This could further prove that the North was truly victorious in battle, giving them almost a proper noun feel to the word "host."  They have taken "the flag today," after all, ... and won.  On the more ethereal side, however, we have to understand the Christian idea behind the word "Host."  In Roman Catholicism, the "Host" is the bread of Communion that has truly been turned into the flesh of Jesus Christ for us to eat.  Even though the word "Host" does not at all mean God here, it could mean that the North can be considered just as "holy" with God on their side through their victory.

The irony of all of this is, even through all of this grand symbolism of the North ... from being "royal" to "holy," those soldiers still don't understand the concept of victory as much as the South.  Why?  The answer is found here:

As he defeated--dying--
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

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What does "purple host" symbolise in Emily Dickinson's poem "Success is Counted Sweetest"?

This poem, written in 1862 during the Civil War of the United States, reveals Emily Dickinson's feelings about success and her struggles with the world. In her verses, the "purple Host" is the royal army, literally representative of the Northern forces who by sheer numbers defeated the Confederate armies in battle, and figuratively representative of those to whom success is a facile victory.  They are, thus, like royalty in the sense that things are given to them as a right of birth. But, Emily Dickinson, who struggles in her efforts as "he defeated--dying--," understands how unattainable success and "triumph" can be in her worldly battles.

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