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Success is counted sweetest -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Ashwin Mahalingam:
(Poem #687) Success is counted sweetest
 Success is counted sweetest
 By those who ne'er succeed.
 To comprehend a nectar
 Requires sorest need.

 Not one of all the purple Host
 Who took the Flag to-day
 Can tell the definition,
 So clear, of Victory,

 As he, defeated, dying,
 On whose forbidden ear
 The distant strains of triumph
 Break, agonized and clear.
-- Emily Dickinson
(1864)

When I first read this poem (in 6th grade) I was cynical enough to scoff at
it. However, like most of us I have 'been there' often enough to know that
the feeling of being 'so near and yet so far', agonizingly brings home the
point that it is in defeat that we truly learn to appreciate victory - so
much so, that the more the defeats, the sweeter the success.
  In a competition of the sort that Dickinson writes about, where there are
winners and losers, to accept a win is to accept the concept of a loss. For
by the very nature of the contest, there can be no definition of a win that
does not imply the definition of the loss. The knowledge of what you have is
a function of the knowledge of what you don't or could have had.
  About the poem itself, I love its simplicity and its brevity. Dickinson
makes her point very quickly and leaves it at that, allowing the reader to
further carry on the train of thought. I also like the way she exaggerates
the ostensible difference between the winner and the loser... the winner is
'the purple host who takes the flag' while the loser is injured, in pain,
dying... partly due to being bested and partly due to the knowledge that
he/she has been bested.

Ashwin.

39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Charles Carneal said...

While the sporting references are apparent, because of its date (1864) this
poem might also relate to the Civil War; since Roman or perhaps Mayan times
one did not usually lie "defeated, dying" on the field of a sporting event.

It also seems as though it might refer to one who is on his deathbed
mentally reviewing his life as a failure. Perhaps it is life itself that is
the victory...

Thanks for the poem!

Charles Carneal
AHM Development, Inc.
8411 Preston Road, Suite 711
Dallas, Texasofficefaxcell

Effy Stonoem said...

thanks for this! i really appreciate your insightful commentary on what is one of my favorite works!
cheers from london!
effy stonem

Kitty Bakker said...

And the purple host might be the Unionist soldier in blue uniform soaked with blood (blue with red gives purple). For victory was no clean sheet.

Anonymous said...

The poem was actually written in 1859 before the Civil War began and was published later.
I don't think it is a far reach to say that those that are successful often do not truly grasp what they have, particularly if it comes easily or naturally.

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Anonymous said...

it is ridiculous poem ha!hA! who is going to succeed if we ask the one who know the taste of success. according to the poem , the loser know the meaning of success.

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