Dickinson And Hughes Essay

After reading both “Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant” by Emily Dickinson
and “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, I determined that the main difference
between the two poems is both poets’ use of diction. Dickinson makes use of
abstract diction in her poem, using words like bright, delight, superb, and
dazzle. Using the word “truth” in itself is an enormous abstraction. Hughes,
however, uses more concrete diction, with words such as raisin, fester, sore,
meat, and load. These are actual, physical things that exist. I see this as the
most significant difference between the two poems. At first glance,
Dickinson’s poem made no sense to me. I then, however, tore it apart and came
up with the following explication. Line one basically states “tell me the
whole truth, but don’t be so direct. Don’t just come out and say it.” In
line two, when the speaker refers to a circuit, she is most likely comparing the
way they tell the truth to the way circuits wind their way around a room, mostly
hidden, but getting their job done. Lines three and four are saying the direct
truth may be too much to handle, such as the sun may be too bright to look at
directly. Lines five and six are telling this person to explain the truth like
one might explain lightning to a child, with a kind, soothing tone of voice
that’s easy to understand. Lines seven and eight say that the truth must come
a little at a time, or gradually, so that it may leave us in some suspense,
rather than hitting us all at once and leaving us unable to comprehend the whole
truth for what it is. Dickinson’s use of alliteration shows in the poem,
especially in lines one, two, four, and seven, where she uses words in pairs,
such as tell, truth, success, circuit, the, truth, superb, and surprise. The
author also uses an a b c b rime scheme. Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem”
was bit easier to explicate because of his use of concrete diction. The first
line is simply an introduction into the poem, which in itself is a pondering of
what happens to a dream when it must be postponed or put off. The main body of
the poem goes into detail about what happens to the dream. Does it dry up like a
raisin in the sun? Fester like a sore? The whole poem is basically a simile. The
author compares this deferred dream to a dried up raisin, a festering sore,
rotten meat, syrupy sweetness that’s crusty and sugary, a heavy load that just
sags, and finally, does it just explode? He uses very good imagery, and I’m
almost able to see this dream being put off, forgotten about, or deteriorating.

Both authors, although using completely different methods, come across very
clearly with their main point. While Dickinson is abstract, and Hughes is more
concrete with his diction, they both use considerable similes, Hughes more than
Dickinson. For example, Hughes uses similes in almost every line of his poem.

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Dickinson uses only a few, such as “as lightning to the children”. Dickinson
also uses personification, in saying that the truth must dazzle gradually, or
using the phrase “the Truth’s superb surprise”, referring to the truth as
a proper noun, giving it human characteristics. The tone of Dickinson’s poem
differs from that of Hughes’s poem in the sense that Hughes’s poem is
inquisitive, while Dickinson’s is more commanding. The speaker of “Tell all
the Truth…” is saying exactly that- tell all the truth but tell it slant,
while the speaker in “Harlem” is more contemplative, asking what happens to
a dream deferred. The imagery of both poems leaves me with solid pictures in my
mind. In “Tell All The Truth…” the Truth takes on this certain aura, where
you feel that experiencing it would be something wonderful, and it would dazzle
you to no end. Also, as mentioned above, “Harlem” creates the picture of a
dream deteriorating, in one way or another. Hughes’s use of language easily
put these images in front of us for us to see.

Kennedy, X.J. and Gioia, Dana. An Introduction to Poetry. 9th ed. New York:
Harper Collins, 1994.


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