Study Guide

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Art and Culture (Poetry)

By Emily Dickinson

Art and Culture (Poetry)

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)."

Questions About Art and Culture (Poetry)

  1. What do poetry and truth have in common? 
  2. Are there any lines in this poem that make you think of the act of writing, or making art? If so, which ones? Why? 
  3. What could a poem's "superb surprise" be? 
  4. Why would it be important, like the truth, for a poem to "dazzle gradually"? How could a poem "blind" its readers?

Chew on This

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?)