Study Guide

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Philosophical Viewpoints

By Emily Dickinson

Philosophical Viewpoints

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.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints

  1. If you had to give a summary of what Dickinson's philosophy on truth was (based on this poem), what would it be? 
  2. What parts of this poem take us out of the real world and into the philosophical realm? What examples from the poem support your answer?
  3. What is your personal philosophy on truth? Try writing a short poem or paragraph to explain. 
  4. Has this poem changed the way you think about the truth? Why or why not?

Chew on This

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.