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I measure every Grief I meet

I measure every Grief I meet


by Emily Dickinson

Stanzas 1-2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Stanza 1

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes—
I wonder if It weighs like Mine—
Or has an Easier size.

  • The speaker describes what she does whenever she sees sad or grieving people—she looks at them, trying to "measure" just how sad they are.
  • But how? Is she looking at facial features and noticing that people are sad? Does she pay special attention when she sees people wearing all black? Is she crashing funerals? We're not quite sure, so we'll have to settle for the mystery.
  • In the first two lines, the speaker is focused on the outside world—how other people are feeling; but in the second two lines, the speaker turns inward, letting us know that she experiences grief, too. 
  • And she wants to know how her grief stacks up. Is everyone else's grief just as heavy as hers? Or is it more manageable?
  • Check out how these lines make grief—an abstract emotion—seem downright tangible. It's as if you can hold grief in your hand. If only that were true. Then you could just chuck grief in the trash bin, and take it to the curb on Tuesdays.
  • Finally, before we move on to stanza 2, we have a special Shmoop mission for you: sing these lines to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why? Head on over to "Form and Meter" to find out.

Stanza 2

I wonder if They bore it long—
Or did it just begin—
I could not tell the Date of Mine—
It feels so old a pain—

  • First the speaker was focused on how much others were suffering. Now she moves to the question of how long they've suffered. 
  • The first two lines focus on others who are sad, as she wonders if their pain is old or new.
  • In the next two lines, she zooms back in on her own grief, telling us that she's not sure when hers started, but she knows that she's down in the dumps for a really long time.
  • Once again, grief in these lines is a weighty, real thing—not some abstract concept. It's something others bear, and an actual pain our speaker feels, like a bad back or a sprained ankle… that seems to last forever.

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