Study Guide

The Lightning is a yellow Fork Wisdom and Knowledge

By Emily Dickinson

Wisdom and Knowledge

Living as we do in the age of the Internet, where it seems like all the world's knowledge is at our fingertips, it may be hard to put ourselves in Emily Dickinson's 19th-century shoes. Our technologies of information storage and retrieval would have been totally mind-blowing to someone of Dickinson's time. But even though we know a whole lot more about the world now than we did then, we still don't know everything – and we never will.

"The Lightning is a yellow Fork" is about this fundamental problem of human knowledge: the more we know, the more there is to learn. Dickinson's poem expresses an understanding of the fact that there will always be some things that are beyond our understanding. It seems the only thing we can know for sure is the fact that we don't actually know anything for sure; the revelation of the "Apparatus" or framework of the universe only serves to remind us of how little we truly understand.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. Why do you think the only trait the speaker attributes to humanity is "ignorance"?
  2. How much is "revealed" to us by the phenomenon of the lightning?
  3. What does the phrase "the Apparatus of the Dark" allude to?

Chew on This

The speaker gives up on her whimsical extended metaphor of a house in the second stanza, which reflects the impossibility of understanding the workings of the universe. This failed metaphor shows a kind of frustration with the limitations of human understanding.

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