Truth is the central theme in "Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant." Dickinson's not talking about telling the truth in response to "Who ate the last Doritos Locos taco?" She's talking about a larger Truth (capital T)—what is real and true on a deeper level. It's the "who we are and what we're doing here" kind of truth—why we make art, or why there is beauty or pain, etc. Although she doesn't give us any exact answers about what the Truth actually is, she does get across that it's big, powerful stuff, and warns that it should be handed out bit by bit. Otherwise we might be completely bowled over, blitzed, and blinded.
Truth, in this poem, isn't one specific thing. It's the true essence of what lies beneath our world, the spiritual world, and us. Far out, y'all.
Dickinson knows what the truth is, she just doesn't want to reveal it in the poem for fear she'll blind readers with its power. Good lookin' out, Em.
Art is truth. Poetry is art. Are we taking some liberties in interpreting "Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant"? Maybe, but we think there's enough evidence to suggest that Dickinson was exploring truth on many levels in this poem. One that makes the most sense is poetry. Poems are things of increments—baby steps that build into something great. Usually, you have to spend some time analyzing many of a poem's elements before you're able to make sense of the sum of its parts—its particular truth, and then, hopefully, it will dazzle you, reveal its "superb surprise." (Ta-da!) We know Dickinson, not only in this poem, but in many of her others, believed that the "success" of her poems "in Circuit lie(d)."
Dickinson doesn't really think poetry reveals truth so much as it's the process of seeking truth. It's more of a "journey, not a destination" kind of trip.
Art and poetry have nothing to do with truth. They're just a product of human toil; truth is beyond human reach. (Happy now?)
The foundation of any philosophy is basically trying to get at what is true. "Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant" doesn't explore any particular philosophy, but we feel it's philosophical in nature. It's exploring the Truth—what it is, what it is in relationship to humans, and how powerful it can be. It's not unusual for poets to think, of course (it's hard to write a poem without thinking—trust us, we tried once) but this is some next-level thinking. Dickinson's not merely musing on the change of season or the ocean's unrelenting beauty (topics worthy of many-a-poem, b.t.w.). She's thinking beyond that, and that kind of thought exploration upgrades this poem to the philosophical level.
Although Dickinson philosophizes about the truth, the poem offers no actual answers about what the truth is. Thanks bunches, Ms. D.
At the heart of this poem's philosophy is that the truth can never be known in its entirety. Darn it all.
Okay, we admit it: as a rule, it's not a good idea to take the poet's biographical information and use it to interpret a poem. We know that Dickinson was a devout Christian—that her upbringing, education, and personal beliefs were all Christianity-infused, but that doesn't give us the right to assume there's anything religious going on in "Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant." What does give us the right, though, is the evidence in the actual poem. We've been reading poems for just about… ever, and when we see all that light, and truth, and frailty of the human race, we start thinking about religion, particularly in the Christian tradition. The proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, the poem).
Truth is just a code word for God in this poem. Whenever Dickinson writes about truth, she is really talking about God. Now program that into your decoder ring.
Nope—our bad. The Shmoop team has overstepped their interpretation bounds. Dickinson's talking about truth in this poem, and that has nothing to do with God.