Study Guide

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Truth

By Emily Dickinson


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.

Questions About Truth

  1. If this is a poem about the truth, why doesn't Dickinson reveal exactly what the truth is? 
  2. What do you think the truth's "superb surprise" is? How can you tell? 
  3. Based on this poem, do you think the truth is a positive or negative thing? Or both? Why do you think so?
  4. How could the brilliance of the truth "blind" us, as Dickinson touches on in the final line?

Chew on This

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.