Study Guide

From Blank to Blank Stanza 1

By Emily Dickinson

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."

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