Knows how to forget!

Emily Dickinson

‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson describes forgetting and how hard it can be to put something out of one’s mind that’s emotionally scarring.

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: Forgetting can be difficult

Speaker: Someone hoping to forget something traumatic

Emotions Evoked: Confusion, Frustration

Poetic Form: Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

Dickinson reminds readers how difficult it can be to forget traumatic experiences in her 'Knows how to forget!'

Life is full of experiences that are forgotten on a daily basis. These are easy to forget, making forgetting something that most people don’t think a lot about.

But, as soon as something distressing happens, and one is affected by it long after the incident, being able to forget that thing can become quite critical and distressing. It’s this kind of forgetting that Dickinson is interested in within ‘Knows how to forget!’ 

Knows how to forget!
Emily Dickinson

Knows how to forget!But could It teach it?Easiest of Arts, they sayWhen one learn how

Dull Hearts have diedIn the AcquisitionSacrificed for ScienceIs common, though, now —

I went to SchoolBut was not wiserGlobe did not teach itNor Logarithm Show

"How to forget"!Say — some — Philosopher!Ah, to be eruditeEnough to know!

Is it in a Book?So, I could buy it —Is it like a Planet?Telescopes would know —

If it be inventionIt must have a Patent.Rabbi of the Wise BookDon't you know?
Knows how to forget! by Emily Dickinson


‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about how hard it is to forget something painful.

In the first part of the poem, the poet alludes to difficult forgetting can be. She wishes that there was some specific way to forget something emotionally traumatic. But people have worked for centuries and have never found the answer. The poet continues, expressing her wish that there was a book or philosopher who could teach her the art of forgetting. 


The main theme of the poem is forgetting, or specifically, how difficult it can be to forget something emotionally traumatic. Some things are easy to forget, like e everyday occurrences and conversations. But other things, like heartbreak or sorrow over a loved one’s death, are far harder. It’s this kind of experience that Dickinson alludes to as she emphasizes the difficulty of forgetting. 

Structure and Form 

‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines. The lines are all quite short, between four and six words each. The poet does not use a consistent rhyme scheme throughout, but she does show several important end rhymes. For example, “forget” and “it” in stanza one and the use of the word “know” at the ends of multiple stanzas (creating an exact rhyme). 

Literary Devices 

Dickinson uses a few different literary devices in this poem. They include: 

  • Epistrophe: is the use of the same word or phrase at the end of multiple lines. For example, two, four, five, and six all end with “know.” 
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct scope of the poem. In this case, the poet alludes to her Christian beliefs and her doubts.
  • Metaphor: a comparison to things that does not use either the word “like” or “as.” For example, the poet uses sarcasm and a metaphor when she calls the ability to forget “Easiest of Arts.” 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off the line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines four and four of stanza one.

Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two 

Knows how to forget!

But could It teach it?

Easiest of Arts, they say

When one learn how

Dull Hearts have died

In the Acquisition

Sacrifice for Science

Is common, though, now—

In the first few lines of ‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson, the poet’s speaker considers how difficult it can be to forget something emotionally distressing. In the first stanza, she says that “It” is capable of forgetting and that she wishes “It “could teach her and others the same skill. It’s very unclear what “it” is in these first lines, which will lead to a variety of interpretations. 

They say it’s easy to forget, Dickinson adds, but “Dull Hearts have died / In the Acquisition.” People have tried, throughout time, to figure out what it takes to forget something painful and have failed. She depicts someone dying in an effort to forget, perhaps turning to suicide as the only way to forget something traumatic. 

Stanzas Three and Four 

I—went to School

But was not wiser

Globe did not teach it

Nor Logarithm Show

“How to forget”!

Say some Philosopher!

Ah, to be erudite

Enough to know!

In the third stanza, the speaker notes that although she went to school, she did not learn the art of forgetting. This implies that she wishes she had or that there was someone around her to teach her the art of forgetting today. There was no “Logarithm” to help her at school nor any “Philosopher” who teaches “How to forget”! 

The poet is trying to emphasize how there is no practical knowledge on the subject. One can’t sit down with a book and learn how to forget, although she wishes that could be the case. 

Stanzas Five and Six 

Is it in a Book?

So, I could buy it—

Is it like a Planet?

Telescopes would know—

If it be invention

It must have a Patent—

Rabbi of the Wise Book

Don’t you know?

The fifth and sixth stanzas both contain questions. These are rhetorical questions to which Dickinson does not expect an answer. She uses them in order to emphasize her bafflement further when it comes to forgetting.

She asks if there’s some piece of information about forgetting in a book, and if there is one, she says that she would buy it. She also considers whether forgetting is “like a Planet” or something that one can seek out with a telescope (meaning something that is currently outside human knowledge but can in the future be understood).

The poet ends the poem by directing a few words at “Rabbi of the Wise Book,” meaning Jesus the Rabbi of the New Testament. She asks him, “Don’t you know [how to forget]?” This slight jab at Christianity is common in Dickinson’s verse. Plus, it works well to emphasize her point about forgetting. No one knows, not even Christ. 


What is the message of ‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson?

The message is that although sometimes it’s described as easy, in fact, forgetting emotional distress is very hard. People have tried throughout time to successfully put traumatic thoughts out of their minds, and it’s never worked.

What is the tone of ‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson?

The tone is seeking and confused. The speaker is seeking out answers to her questions, repetitively asking where one could find knowledge about forgetting and coming up short.

What is the theme of ‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson?

The theme of the poem is forgetting, or specifically, how hard it is to forget. There is no knowledge out there on the subject, Dickinson says, so one is left to their own efforts to forget something. 

What is ‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson about?

The poem ‘Knows how to forget!’ is about the poet’s exasperation when it comes to trying to forget something. She wishes there was some source of information or someone who could teach her how to forget the things she’d rather not have on her mind.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also read some other Emily Dickinson poems. For example: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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