Study Guide

From Blank to Blank

From Blank to Blank Summary

The speaker wanders through an endless, inescapable maze of nothingness. She decides it doesn't matter if she stops, goes forward, or lies down and dies. Every time she thinks she's found the end of it, she realizes it just keeps going. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker tells us things actually get brighter for her when she wanders through the void—with her eyes closed.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-2

    From Blank to Blank—

    A Threadless Way

    • In these first two lines, the speaker tells us she's lost in a maze of nothingness. (We're just assuming our speaker's a she here, since so far we have nothing else to go on. For more, check out "Speaker.")
    • She moves from one "Blank" to another; no matter where she goes, there just isn't anything to see. 
    • The repetition of the word "Blank" hammers home the feeling of endless, inescapable emptiness. 
    • The poem doesn't make it super-explicit, but this "Threadless Way" thing is most likely a reference to the Greek myth of "Theseus and the Minotaur." In that story, the hero Theseus slays the man-eating Minotaur—a creature that lives in a maze called the Labyrinth. Theseus escapes the Labyrinth by unspooling a thread as he walks into the maze, then following it back out again after he's done some monster-slaying.
    • Unfortunately our hero in this poem has no thread, so she's lost forever in a labyrinth of nothingness—bummer.
    • There's not even a Minotaur to break up the monotony; here, the monster is the emptiness that surrounds the speaker.
    • This sounds way scarier to us than being trapped in tangible maze with a flesh-and-blood monster. After all, there's no way to fight nothingness; it just isn't there. 
    • The question then becomes: what does this labyrinth of nothingness represent?
    • Depression?
    • Grief?
    • Loneliness?
    • Meaninglessness?
    • Chances are it's a cocktail of all of the above, with a splash of some other seriously sad emotions. The poem doesn't tell us explicitly yet, so at this point it's open to interpretation. The speaker lets us fill in the… blank (sorry, we couldn't help ourselves). 
    • We also notice that these short lines are in iambic dimeter—or are they secretly one line of tetrameter in disguise? To solve this and the other metrical mysteries of the poem, click on over to "Form and Meter."

    Line 3

    I pushed Mechanic feet—

    • So the speaker secretly has robot feet? Hmm, that would be cool, but she's probably not being literal here.
    • But this line does get across the idea that the speaker is moving mechanically through the world.
    • This goes back to the feeling of repetitive monotony that line 1 describes. The speaker feels like a machine that's doing the same things over and over again for no reason. 
    • We also notice that the verb "pushed" does a great job of showing how heavy the speaker's feet feel. Instead of using a more expected verb like "walked," the speaker gets across her sluggish gait with "pushed."
    • It's weird to think about pushing something that's a part of our own body. Maybe the speaker's feet just feel heavy and numb, and she barely even feels like they're a part of her anymore. 
    • We also ought to point out how incredibly similar this image is to one in Dickinson's poem "After a great pain, a formal feeling comes," which has the line "The Feet, mechanical, go round—" (5).
    • In both poems, the speaker is feeling lost emotionally, so it totally makes sense that Dickinson would recycle the image.

    Lines 4-5

    To stop—or perish—or advance—

    Alike indifferent—

    • Here, the speaker tells us that it doesn't matter if she stands still, goes forward, or just sits down and dies. Man, this lady must really be having a bad day.
    • Statements like this again make us feel like the speaker is going through some serious depression and that nothing she does feels meaningful to her in any way. 
    • Notice how Dickinson uses her trademark dashes to separate the three options in line 4. This slows down the rhythm of the line, creating caesuras, or pauses.
    • This seems to feed directly into the image of the mechanical feet in line 3. With each halting step, the speaker thinks about her options—and ends up deciding that it just doesn't matter what she does.
    • Also, did you notice how weird the syntax is in line 5? The line doesn't feel connected; it's just kind of two adjectives plunked down at the end of the stanza.
    • This reminds us of the way the speaker feels disconnected from her own feet, and makes us wonder if the nothingness she's surrounded by represents a feeling of disconnection from the world. 
    • Line 5 is also a little tricky because it's not totally clear what the speaker is describing. In fact, she could be saying that she's just as indifferent to all the things in the stanza: the blanks, the labyrinth, the mechanical feet, the options—to all of it, the speaker says… "Meh."
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 6-8

    If end I gained

    It ends beyond

    Indefinite disclosed—

    • Looks like there's nothing in this stanza but more emptiness on the horizon—if there even is a horizon. 
    • Here, the speaker tells us that every time she thinks she's found the end of something, she sees another end further beyond.
    • We could connect this back with the labyrinth reference in line 2: every time she turns a corner in the maze of nothingness, she just sees more nothingness ahead. (Hold up—are there corners in nothingness? Ugh, our heads hurt.) She might trick herself into thinking that it's about to end, but she's inevitably disappointed. 
    • We also notice a bit of parallelism here. See how lines 6 and 7 are similar in structure, with the whole "If end" and "It ends" thing? Just like with the first line of the poem, we have an intentional repetition that gets across an idea of endless, empty monotony. 
    • Line 8 reminds us of line 5 because it also contains two words that are just sort of plunked down in the poem with no regard to any kind of standard syntax.
    • "Indefinite" (8) also slant rhymes with "indifferent" (1.5), which doubly connects the lines in our minds.
    • Again, we have a line that seems disconnected in the same way that the speaker feels toward the world. But what does line 8 mean, exactly?
    • Well, "indefinite" describes something that's vague or unclear, and "disclosed" means to reveal a secret. 
    • So, it could be that the line is describing the moments where she gets to what she thinks is an end in the nothingness, but then finds out that there's more nothingness to go. 
    • Or the line could be describing the general realization she's having throughout the entire poem.
    • If so, it's a pretty terrible realization. It's like the speaker is saying, "Eureka! Nothing matters. Nothing matters at all."
    • We should also mention that this chunk of the poem is full of assonance and consonance; check out "Sound Check" for the deets.

    Lines 9-10

    I shut my eyes—and groped as well

    'Twas lighter—to be Blind— 

    • Now, the speaker tells us that things were a little brighter after she shut her eyes.
    • So what's that? A happy ending? Hardly—but maybe it is in the bleak world of this poem anyway.
    • Okay, so here's the question: why exactly were things brighter with closed eyes? This last line obviously is a bit of a contradiction
    • What gives? Is the nothingness surrounding the speaker just that super-dark? Does the speaker mean that looking at all that nothingness was just so freaky that closing her eyes was comforting?
    • And here's another question: just what is this image supposed to symbolize, anyway? We've got this awesome image of a person groping around in a void with her eyes closed, but what does it represent?
    • Could it be a struggle with depression? A desperate search for meaning in life? A statement about how we're all blind to the truth of the universe?
    • As with everything in this poem, it's open to interpretation. Whatever it is, though, it's probably not a good thing.
    • Before we say adieu to this analysis, take a look at how Dickinson breaks up both of these lines with a dash, again giving us some caesuras, or pauses.
    • This does a great job of getting across the stop-and-start pace of someone who's groping around in the dark. 
    • You could also look at the dashes here as blanks being inserted into the middle of the line. If the speaker can't escape her blank dimension, we aren't going to either. 
    • Having fun yet? Well, we hate to disappoint, but that's the end of the poem.