Poetry Discussion questions
Heart! We will forget him!
1. Whom do you identify with in this poem—the head or the heart?
2. Why do you think the heart is asked to take the lead in this situation?
3. What do you think the speaker means by “warmth” and “light”? If you were trying to forget someone, which
would you try to forget first?
4. Exclamation points punctuate this little poem, as if the speaker were saying, “Hurry up! We must get this over
with!” Why do you suppose the speaker is in such a hurry?
5. Remember the information on SLANT RHYME—describe the rhyme scheme of the poem noting the instance of
slant rhyme. What is the function of the end rhymes?
6. Some would say this poem is ironic to the core: the speaker doesn’t really expect to—doesn’t want to—forget
the man. Do you agree? Why or why not?
If you were coming in the Fall
1. Do you think the hopes expressed in the poem are fairly common or are they far-fetched? Explain.
2. How would you describe the speaker’s situation? How does she feel about it?
3. What two things are being compared in the simile in the first stanza?
4. In the second stanza, what domestic articles are the months compared to? Why does the speaker put them in
5. Van Dieman’s Land has come to mean places on the globe farthest away from us. Given this information, how
would you paraphrase the third stanza?
6. How would you describe the speaker’s tone in the first four stanzas? How does it change in t the fifth stanza,
where her exaggerations disappear? What goads, or pushes, her against her will?
7. In folklore, a goblin is a tormenting creature. What do you think Dickinson is suggesting when she says that the
bee is a goblin and will not “state” its sting?
The Soul selects her own Society
1. What advantages and disadvantages may lie in a selection as strict as this soul makes?
2. Majority has at least two meanings: “having reached full legal age” (or “Having come into one’s own”) and “the
greater part of something.” It should also mean “superiority” (an obsolete usage). What do you think it means in
this poem? What kind of person does the adjective “divine” suggest?
3. Do you think the phrase “Valves of her attention” is derived from organic thing (valves of a clamshell) or
mechanical ones (valves of a faucet)? What do you picture happening here?
4. Dickinson’s early editors changed the word valves to lids. How does this change the metaphor? How does it
change what you see?
5. Look at the meter of lines 10and 12. How does the rhythmical pattern differ from the corresponding lines in the
first and second stanzas? What is the effect of this difference?
6. Dickinson did not give her poems titles. Her early editors called this poem “Exclusions.” In what ways does this
title apply? In what ways is it limiting?
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church
1. What is your response to the speaker’s “church”?
2. In what ways does the speaker keep the Sabbath? How might keeping the Sabbath as others do affect her
3. What is the speaker’s relationship to nature? How is this revealed in the metaphors the speaker uses?
4. What do you think the speaker means in the last line by saying, “I’m going all along”?
5. What kind of people might share the speaker’s preference? Who would disagree with this way of keeping the
I taste a liquor never brewed
1. What is the speaker drinking in the poem? Why doesn’t he or she want to stop?
2. Who would the “Landlords” in stanza 3 be? What details in the people suggest a tone of defiance?
3. Where is the little “Tippler,” or drinker, in the last stanza? Can you see any significance in the last word of the
4. Many readers see this poem, at least in part, as a description of the inspiration that drives artists to create. What
other human activities or emotions could it pertain to?
Much Madness is divinest Sense
1. What kind of people might take this poem as a personal “anthem”? Does anything in this poem reflect ideas you
have about yourself?
2. What is the meaning of the two paradoxes, or apparent contradictions, in the first three lines? How do they
affect they poem’s meaning?
3. What do you think is the poem’s theme? What does the speaker think about the individual’s proper relationship
4. Dickinson liked to use dashes—a mark of punctuation her first editors usually removed. How do dashes help
emphasize certain ideas in this poem?
5. What would you say is Dickinson’s tone in this poem? What similarities do you notice to the other poems in this
Apparently with no surprise
1. What is the message of this poem? Do you feel it is shocking, reassuring, or something else?
2. What is the “blonde Assassin”?
3. How are the flowers, the frost, and the sun personified in this poem? What kind of person does each seem to be
4. A pun is a ply on words based on multiple meanings of a single word or words that sound alike but mean
different things. What pun is in line 6? How would you explain it?
5. According to the speaker, how does God feel about the flower’s beheading? How do you think the speaker feels?
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
1. How would you define the word slant as it is used in the poem? Is telling something slant different than lying?
2. Explain the meaning of “Circuit” in the context of the poem? What is “too bright for our infirm Delight”?
3. Lines 5 and 6 provide and example to illustrate the poet’s point about truth? As is typical of Dickinson’s
techniques, she omits several words in these lines. How would you rephrase the lines to make a full sentence?
4. According to the last two lines, why must the truth is told “slant”? How would you define “dazzle” and “blind”
5. What metaphor is implies in line 7? What things is “Truth” being compared with?
6. Do you agree with the poet’s message? In what way can this lyric be seen as a reference to the way poetry
Success is counted sweetest
1. Who is likely to count success as sweetest? Do you agree with the speaker in describing the feelings of the
people who fail?
2. Purple is the color associated either blood shed in battle (the Purple Heart medal is given to those killed or
wounded in battle). Purple is also a color associated with royalty or nobility. What is the “purple Host” in line 5?
3. Whose ear is mentioned in line 10? What is the ear “forbidden” to hear?
4. Describe the image you see in the last stanza?
5. Do you agree with the idea expressed in lines 3-4? Why or why not? How would you paraphrase these lines?
Because I could not stop for Death
1. If you were going to personify death, would Death be like the person described in this poem?
2. Can you paraphrase the first two lines in a way that emphasizes their irony? What word in line 2 tells you that the
tone is ironic?
3. In stanza 2 “civility” means “politeness.” How does this kind of behavior on the part of Death and the speaker
extend the irony of the first stanza
4. What three things do the riders pass in stanza 3? What is significant about the fact that the sun passes the
carriage in stanzas 4-5, and about the nature of the change in temperature?
5. Stanza 5 is a riddle in itself. What is the nearly buried house?
6. Do you think the concluding stanza introduces a tone of terror, because the speaker has suddenly realized she
will ride on forever, conscious of being dead? Or is the poem really an expression of trust over triumph?
I heard a Fly buzz—when I died
1. According to the second and third stanza, how had the speaker and those around her prepared for death?
2. What are the dying person and those around her expecting to find in this room? What appears instead and why is
3. In line 4, Dickinson used the words “heaves” to refer to the behavior of storms.
Why is “heaves” an appropriate word to describe what is happening in the poem?
4. How does the poet use pauses and specific words in lines 12-13 to make the appearance of the fly dramatic and
5. In the third stanza, what portion of the speaker is “assignable”? What portion, by implication, is not assignable?
6. Who is the “King” (line 7)? What does the phrase “the Windows failed” (line 15) mean?
7. What tone do you hear in this poem? What feeling do you think the poet expresses by inserting the fly into this
I died for Beauty—but was scarce
1. What thoughts and feelings would you say are expressed in this poem?
2. What is the situation described in the first stanza? What do the two speakers have in common that allows ones
of them to claim they are “Brethren”, or brothers?
3. IN the third stanza the “Moss” is real, but it is also a metaphor. What do you think it represents? What is
significant in the fact that it covers up the speakers’ name?
4. Slant rhyme makes the last word stand out. Do you think this is an important word? Why or why not?
5. What do you think Dickinson’s message is? Would you say it is optimistic or pessimistic?