‘That it will never come again’ is a short and thoughtful poem in which Dickinson presents a relatable opinion of life, its brevity, and its importance. This piece is far easier to understand than many of her other poems, making it a well-loved addition to her broader oeuvre. In the lines of the text, readers will still be exposed to Dickinson’s characteristic style and use of figurative language, though.
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Summary of That it will never come again
In the short lines of this piece, Dickinson is asking the reader to remember to love the life they have and not put all their heart into waiting for the next one. If one convinces themselves that there is an afterlife, a better life to come after the present one, then they will lose patience with how they’re living and seek only to move on to a new world. This means that one’s precious days on earth will be lost to a longing that may not have the outcome one desires.
Themes in That it will never come again
Dickinson engages with themes of life, time, and the afterlife in this piece. While it’s well-known that Dickinson was a religious person, this poem suggests that religion is not the only valuable thing in life. It is as important, if not more so, to live one’s life as fully and joyfully as it is possible to do. It is so “sweet” because it is temporary, and no one should want to speed it along or waste it because they believe a better life is coming. Seeking out this kind of belief in order to provide answers to questions will not necessarily make one’s life better either.
Structure and Form of That it will never come again
‘That it will never come again’ by Emily Dickinson is a two-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, with the “B”, rhymes edging closer to half-rhymes than full, perfect rhymes. This occurs when only part of the word, usually a consonant or assonant sound, aligns with another. For example, the “t” sound in “sweet” and “exhilarate.” This was a common pattern in Dickinson’s work, as is the meter she uses in the text. The odd-numbered lines each contain eight syllables, while the even-numbered lines have six. They are written in iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.
Literary Devices in That it will never come again
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘That it will never come again.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, alliteration, and a metaphor. The latter is found in the second stanza when the speaker compares believing something one doesn’t really believe to an “ablative” or a surgical procedure. In this procedure in which an ailment is cured through the destruction of tissue. So, in this way of living, one might find a solution to worldly questions, but they also lose something—the value of the life they’re living in that moment. Their thoughts turn to the afterlife with their present life as a prelude.
Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of that stanza.
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats words that start with the same consonant sound. For example, “so sweet” in line two of the first stanza and “be,” “be,” and “best” in line one of the second stanza.
Analysis of That it will never come again
That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.
In the first lines of ‘That it will never come again,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. Since Dickinson did not title her pieces, this is usually the case. The opening statement is quite simple. She’s reminding the reader that life is short, it doesn’t last forever, and that’s what makes it so valuable. Things that are temporary are more important than those that are said to last forever. One has to make the most of the time they have on earth.
In the next two lines, she alludes to one possible way of living that will end some of that “sweetness” of life. If one moves through the world trying to believe something they don’t, such as the belief in an afterlife or a particular religion, it will not make things easier or better. One will live with that on their mind, and their life will become more about getting to the next than enjoying the one they have.
That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate —
This instigates an appetite
If one lives this way, Dickinson picks up in the second stanza. It’s no better than an “ablative estate.” One will be living in a way that’s similar to an ablative surgery, or one in which part of the body is destroyed in order to cure the rest. By turning to a future life, one will destroy their current life, or at least the pure joy of living it. If one does so, it “instigates an appetite” for the next life that may not be fulfilled. If one convinces themselves, there is another life after this one. This world may be filled with impatience and dissatisfaction.
Readers who enjoyed ‘That it will never come again’ should also consider reading some of Emily Dickinson’s better-known poems. For example:
- ‘Fame is a bee’ – another short poem, one that speaks about the transient nature of fame through the metaphor of a bee.
- ‘A Coffin is a Small Domain’ – is one of Dickinson’s many poems that presents her thoughts about death.
- ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ – one of her best-known poems that reflects the poet’s own thoughts. It reveals her disdain for publicity and her desire to meet someone like herself, “Nobody.”
- ‘The Letter’ – is a sweet love poem in which Dickinson describes writing a letter that, as the poem goes along, transitions into writing itself. It presents a conversation between the poet and her writing.