Tell all the truth but tell it slant (1263),
by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Sharing Emily Dickinson is a necessity. This woman poet, this precursor to contemporary American poetry embodied — she remains a mystery in so many ways contrary to her truth telling through poetry.
Brenda Miller’s book on writing essay, Tell it Slant, is both an instruction manual for a wholly different form than poetry, and a lengthy analysis of Miss Dickinson’s poem that concludes with the lesson, tell the truth out of respect to yourself and others, but never tell it all at once. The Truth must dazzle gradually …
Miller’s book is one of my favorite textbooks from college. I thought the application of Dickinson’s poetic life lesson as an opening to teaching the personal essay creatively ingenious and a terrific validation of the idea that writers should never limit themselves to drawing inspiration from any single reading genre or category of life experiences.
Dickinson’s poetry is referenced often in a YA novel I finished reading just this week — Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian. I recommend this book, and not just because of the character’s scattered Dickinson quotes and her adoration of the poet’s mysterious insights. The quotes and brief insights of a wounded teenage girl are moving, yes, as is the protagonist’s entire tragic tale, but something deeper lies below the surface of the story, a peek into the fragility of human life. Don’t let that sixteen-year old girl ramble and syntax put you off in the first chapter … keep reading.
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You might also enjoy Camille Dungy’s essay on writing, which references “tell it slant.”
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