As Imperceptibly as Grief

Emily Dickinson

‘As imperceptibly as grief’ by Emily Dickinson analyzes grief. The poet compares it to the passing away of the summer.

Emily Dickinson

Nationality: America

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Change is always around the corner but we don't always notice it

Themes: Beauty, Nature

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Grief

Poetic Form: Blank Verse, Free Verse

Time Period: 19th Century

Grief passes as summer does in this poem. Dickinson gives new life to comparisons of death and changing seasons in 'As Imperceptibly as God.'

No writer has ever been able to tap into the feelings of the audience with so few words, as is demonstrated in ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief’.’ The brevity of her poetry allows for the depth of feeling to fill the minds of the readers.

She speaks of the feeling almost as if it were a welcome feeling that slipped away too quickly. Somehow, Dickinson has the ability to draw her audience in and identify with readers and yet still take a completely unique view with her poems.

When readings Dickinson’s poems, one must remember that death was her constant companion. Not only did Dickinson live very near a graveyard, but she also experienced loss from a very early age. Thus, the feeling of grief was something familiar to her. She does not necessarily seem to welcome it in ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief’, but she does seem to miss it when it is gone.

As imperceptibly as Grief
Emily Dickinson

As imperceptibly as GriefThe Summer lapsed away—Too imperceptible at lastTo seem like Perfidy—A Quietness distilledAs Twilight long begun,Or Nature spending with herselfSequestered Afternoon—The Dusk drew earlier in—The Morning foreign shone—A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,As Guest, that would be gone—And thus, without a WingOr service of a KeelOur Summer made her light escapeInto the Beautiful.
As Imperceptibly as Grief by Emily Dickinson

As Imperceptibly as Grief Analysis

Lines 1-4

As imperceptibly as Grief

The Summer lapsed away-

Too imperceptible at last

To seem like Perfidy-

The first four lines of ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief’ reveal the speaker’s feelings toward grief. As readers engage with the opening lines, they will likely identify with the feeling of grief, remembering past experiences that had brought about that particular feeling. The speaker opens with, “as imperceptibly as grief”. This line, first, causes the readers to wonder why “grief” is described as something that is “imperceptible” or difficult to perceive, notice, or understand. It is not immediately clear whether the speaker suggests that grief is hard to notice in oneself, hard to notice in other people, or simply difficult to understand.

That is the beauty of much of Dickinson’s poetry. She uses words that leave it open for the readers to determine what the word means in the context of the poem. The following lines continue to give insight. She compares grief to something that doesn’t last. Rather it will “lapse away” like the summer. This offers comfort to those experiencing grief. Even if the effects of grief never truly go away, the speaker here seems to promise that grief itself will not last forever, but will pass away quickly as the summer fades into fall.

Lines 5-8

A Quietness distilled

As Twilight long begun,

Or Nature spending with herself

Sequestered Afternoon-

With these lines, the speaker seems to welcome grief as something that is simply a normal part of the human experience, like the changing of seasons. It settles in the heart, like the stillness of a quiet night. To the speaker, her experience with grief was like a long twilight. For a time, it continued to grow darker and felt at times that the sun would never rise, that life would never have light, or joy, or happiness again. In the midst of the twilight, it is difficult to believe that the darkness will end, and light will shine again. These lines suggest that no matter the pain in the darkness of the night, healing and joy will come again. The sun will rise, and grief will fade.

Lines 9-12

The Dusk drew earlier in-

The Morning foreign shone-

A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,

As Guest, that would be gone-

With these lines of ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief’, the speaker reveals that the sun does indeed rise even after grief. Here, dusk symbolizes the fading of grief as the morning comes. This morning comes softly, like “harrowing grace”. This is a fascinating term to use for the fading of grief. Most people would welcome the grace of healing.

The new day symbolizes the fading of grief, but the use of the word “harrowing” suggests that it is not healing the speaker experiences after grief, but something different and more sinister. The speaker uses the word “courteous” to describe this feeling that comes after grief. This is an ironic word to use here. Most would consider the grace that comes after grief to be comforting or perhaps even healing.

This speaker refers to the grace as “courteous, yet harrowing”. This gives the readers a very ominous feeling about what is to come when grief fades. While the previous lines offered hope that grief would fade and the night would turn to morning, these lines seem to suggest that what comes after grief is something far worse. In fact, the speaker refers to the “harrowing grace” as a most unwelcome guest.

Lines 13-16

And thus, without a Wing

Or service of a Keel

Our Summer made her light escape

Into the Beautiful.

With the final lines of ‘As Imperceptibly as Grief’, the speaker bids farewell to grief. While some would consider this to be a feeling of hope and healing, it is not presented so in this poem. Rather, the speaker gives the impression that the feelings which come after grief are that of an emptiness that cannot be borne.

She describes the grief as having faded away, just like the “summer made her light escape into the Beautiful”. It is almost as if the speaker wishes she could hold on to the grief she felt. She implies that this feeling was something beautiful, but now that it has escaped, she is left with nothing but a hollow emptiness where she wishes grief could be.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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