in A Level, English Literature, Poetry

Here, you’ll find an analysis of the poem “I did not reach Thee” by Emily Dickinson.

Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below.


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Here’s a link to the poem if you want to read it along with the analysis.


STORY/SUMMARY

Stanza 1: I didn’t reach you, but my feet slip nearer to you every day, there are still Three Rivers and a Hill to cross, a Desert and a Sea before I get to you – I won’t treat it as if it’s only one journey when I finally reach you and tell you about it. 

Stanza 2: Two deserts, but it’s a cold year this year, so that will help cool the sand, after I’ve crossed one desert – the second one will feel as cold as earth, the Sahara desert is too small a price to pay for the pleasure of holding your Right hand. 

Stanza 3: The Sea is the last thing to cross – Step happily, feet, the rest of the journey will be so short – we are likely to just want to play together, but we have to work now, the last thing we work on will be the lightest load that we ever have to deal with. 

Stanza 4: The sun goes crooked and twists – that is the night’s doing before he makes the bend round the Earth and moves to replace the sum. We must have passed the Middle Sea – almost we wish the End was farther away – It seems too great to be standing so near the Whole. 


Stanza 5: We step on material that is soft, like Plush, we stand like snow – pure and still, the waters speak new words. We have passed three rivers and the hill – two deserts and the sea! Now Death has taken over control of our relationship, and he has taken a look at you.

SPEAKER/VOICE

The poem begins with a conflicted tone: “I did not reach Thee” seems like a negative opening line, yet “But my feet slip nearer every day” turns the atmosphere from one contemplating on failure, to one that is hopeful for the future. The poem, therefore, seems to be about the idea of persistence and determination – though the goal of ‘reach’ing the addressee of the poem is difficult and there is a lot of distance between the speaker and her target, a consistent, focused attitude allows her to navigate the various challenging landscapes that she is faced with until she finally achieves what she desires. We could therefore interpret the poem to be about the mentality that allows someone to achieve their goals, or it could be more specific about the idea of love as a driving force that connects individuals together and draws them to one another over a long distance. 

THEMES

TASK: For each of the themes below, make a mind map and explore quotations that relate to it. What, in your opinion, is Dickinson’s final message or statement about each theme? 
  • Grief 
  • Loss 
  • Persistence / Determination
  • Intimacy 
  • Ageing 
  • Love 
  • Travel 
  • Time 
  • Life vs Death

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here, which includes, but it’s not limited to:

  • Vocabulary
  • Key Quotations
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages

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