in A Level, English Literature, Poetry

Below, you’ll find part of an analysis of the poem “I can wade Grief” 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.


LINK TO THE FULL POEM

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here.

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STORY/SUMMARY

Stanza 1: I can wade through the emotion of Grief – I can even move through entire Pools of it – I’m used to that. But the tiniest push from the feeling of Joy stops my feet from working properly, and I fall over – as if I’m drunk – don’t let any Pebble smile and mock me for my clumsiness, it was only the new drink – that’s all! 


Stanza 2: Power is just pain that’s been stranded – allowed to hang in the air with weights, through the discipline of the soul – if you give a healing balm to strong Giants, they will wilt like weak Men, give the weak Men something hard, strong and unmoving like Himalayan rock and they will be able to carry a Giant!

SPEAKER/VOICE

The speaker has a philosophical tone as she muses abstractly on the emotions of grief and joy; she concludes that for her joy is, in fact, a harder emotion to process because her body is unaccustomed to it, using the analogy of alcohol or liquor – the feeling of joy makes her feel drunk and giddy, and she is not really in control of herself when it comes over her. The conclusion of the poem is to present the attitude that comfort and support service, weaken a person’s character, whereas hardship causes them to strengthen themselves in response.

CONTEXT

Written in 1862, during Dickinson’s most prolific years as a writer – her creative and energetic period of writing coincided with her withdrawal from society – she started to become reclusive in her early twenties and by the time she was 30 years old was rarely seen out in public. This may have also been triggered by a difficult experience or a lack of confidence in public circles – Dickinson’s own beliefs and opinions were often at odds with those around her, so it follows logically that she would have found it difficult to make friends and form connections with other townsfolk in Amherst. This poem in particular explores a controversial opinion – that suffering and difficulty can actually be positive for a person in terms of their ability to contribute to growth, the strength of character and maturity. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition where a person’s mind reacts and changes in response to a difficult or traumatic event (or a series of events) that happen to them in their lives. Sufferers of PTSD may recover within a few months, or develop a chronic condition that lasts with them for a long time. The response to trauma may change their behaviour and relationships, including causing them to become detached and withdrawn from those around them as they feel they can no longer relate to or connect with others.  At the time of writing, this was not a known psychological disorder and therefore Dickinson would not herself have been aware of it – yet the way in which the speaker in this poem explores the difficulty of positive emotions such as Joy contrasted with the ease of hard emotions such as Grief suggests that she has undergone a traumatic or stressful event that has caused her to feel more comfortable with the feeling of difficulty and uncertain and unaccustomed to the feeling of ease.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here.

For all our English Literature and Language courses, click here.

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