Study Guide

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Quotes

  • Truth

    Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—(1)

    Dickinson doesn't waste any time telling readers what's up. This is the crux of the entire poem. She thinks the truth is super-important, but should be delivered gently, and at an angle.

    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth's superb surprise (3–4)

    Whatever the truth is, it's bright. Frankly, we're too weak to handle it straight up. If the truth is a raw oyster on the half shell (delicious and pure as it may be), we need to douse it in cocktail sauce and a little lemon juice to take it down.

    The Truth must dazzle gradually (7)

    You wouldn't want to stare at the sun from three feet away. As humans, we need time, distance, and a seriously protective ozone layer to enjoy the sun. The truth's the same way. While its brightness is the fuel of our very existence, we need it in small doses if we're going to be able to handle its power.

  • Art and Culture (Poetry)

    Tell all the Truth but tell is slant— (1)

    Poetry's all about telling the truth, especially in a not-so-direct way. We Shmoopers spend all of our time working out the "slant" parts of poetry so more readers can see its deep-down truth.

    Success in Circuit lies (2)

    Metaphors, similes, symbols—there are all sorts of literary devices that aid in keeping poetry's message Circuit-y. There are so many sometimes, that it takes a lot of patience and practice to keep from getting dizzy.

    The Truth's superb surprise (4)

    It's the superb surprise in poetry, and really all art, that makes us keep coming back to it, and what makes the artist keep making it. The "surprise" in poetry or art is the act of discovery—a sort of "ah-ha!" moment.

    As Lightning to the Children eased
    With explanation kind (5–6)

    Poetry helps make sense of all kinds of things in our world, including scary things. Sometimes it can be like the kind explanation Dickinson writes about in line 6.

    The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind—(7–8)

    It's our job at Shmoop to make sure a poem doesn't lose you. We think that's what these final lines might hint at, too. A good poem pieces out its brilliance bit by bit so the reader won't be blind to its larger message. If a reader can put the pieces together, he or she will be able to discover the poem's truth (or—let's be honest, poetry isn't always cut and dried—truths).

  • Philosophical Viewpoints

    Success in Circuit lies (2)

    Part of the philosophizing in this poem is about the pursuit of the truth. It doesn't seem to be as important for Dickinson to pinpoint the truth in this poem as to search for it. This line makes us think that the pursuit of truth, however circuitous and sometimes confusing, is what will eventually lead to its discovery. It's deep, we know.

    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth's superb surprise (3–4)

    It seems like the weakness of humans is just as important to this philosophy as the truth is. We're not really able to handle the brilliance of the truth, and maybe it's a good thing that we can't figure it out all at once.

    The Truth must dazzle gradually (7)

    This line reiterates the ideas Dickinson touches on earlier in the poem. The truth isn't a pot of gold to be discovered someday after a long day of chasing rainbows. Instead it's something we're offered bit by bit, and that's the way it should be, because we're mere mortals and would be totally blown away if we discovered it all at once.

  • Religion

    Too bright for our infirm Delight (3)

    If there's anything Christian about this poem, it's this line. The meek and weak human is a hallmark of Christian doctrine. To paraphrase: we're weak and God is almighty and powerful.

    The Truth's superb surprise (4)

    This reminds us of a religious epiphany. It's kind of like seeing the light, really understanding what it's all about.

    The Truth must dazzle gradually (7)

    We can't help it. When we see bright lights in literature we think religion, particularly Christianity, where God=light.

    Or every man be blind—(8)

    This line recalls the meek and mild part of Christianity. Mere mortals can't really handle the power of God. We're dazzled by his brilliance and power, so we've got to bow our heads (in respect, in prayer) if we want to be among that kind of awesome light.