Study Guide

The Lightning is a yellow Fork Spirituality

By Emily Dickinson


The speaker of "The Lightning is a yellow Fork" definitely believes in something – the question is, what? We're not sure, and neither is she. However, not understanding something doesn't mean you can't believe in it. In fact, we often believe most passionately in things we can't explain. (Hello, Santa Claus?) The very idea of God has always had incomprehensibility written into it. In this poem the speaker attempts to communicate her sense of cosmic truth by showing us the ways in which nature's wonders (in this case, lightning) demonstrate the presence of a greater scheme of things. We can speculate about it, but we can never really understand it. It's these glimpses of that presence that reassure the speaker that her faith is in the right place, even if she can't explain why.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Whose "inadvertent fingers" drop the fork of lightning?
  2. Why do you think the speaker chooses not to define the higher power that she describes in any certain terms?        
  3. How is the "Apparatus of the Dark" revealed to ignorant observers? What <em>is</em> this "Apparatus"?
  4. Why do you think the poet chooses to use the lightning as the basis for her theological observations?

Chew on This

The disorienting contrast of natural phenomena with domestic images, and the idea of simultaneous revelation and concealment, both contribute to a view of religious belief that requires faith but accepts that true knowledge or understanding is impossible.

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