To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear

Emily Dickinson

‘To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear’ by Emily Dickinson is about suffering. The speaker explores what others experience, particularly one person she loved dearly.


Emily Dickinson

Nationality: American

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: It's impossible to know what someone else is experience at the moment of death

Themes: Death, Love

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Love for Him

Poetic Form: Cinquain, Quatrain

Time Period: 19th Century

Dickinson uses her characteristic style of writing to convey a multi-layered poem about death.

She wishes that she could know just what was going through his mind at the time of his departure. It is clear that the speaker of ‘To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear‘ was not present at the death of this loved one, but wished she had been. She longed to know what was going on in his mind at the very moment of his death.

Perhaps this is because she wants to know what she will experience in her own death, or perhaps this is because she simply wants to know that he was at peace when he departed from this life to the next. She did not deny that he must have suffered, but she wanted to know just what his suffering was like. She wanted to know what thoughts were going through his mind, as he endured the last few moments of suffering he would ever know.

To know just how He suffered — would be dear
Emily Dickinson

To know just how He suffered — would be dear —To know if any Human eyes were nearTo whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —Until it settle broad — on Paradise —To know if He was patient — part content —Was Dying as He thought — or different —Was it a pleasant Day to die —And did the Sunshine face his way —

What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —Or what the Distant say —At news that He ceased Human NatureSuch a Day —

And Wishes — Had He Any —Just His Sigh — Accented —Had been legible — to Me —And was He Confident untilIll fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —

And if He spoke — What name was Best —What lastWhat One broke off withAt the Drowsiest —

Was He afraid — or tranquil —Might He knowHow Conscious Consciousness — could grow —Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —Meet — and the Junction be Eternity
To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear by Emily Dickinson

To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear Analysis

Stanza One

TO know just how he suffered would be dear;

To know if any human eyes were near

To whom he could intrust his wavering gaze,

Until it settled firm on Paradise.

In this stanza of To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear, the speaker expresses her desire to know what her loved one experienced. She longs for that knowledge so much, that she says that to have that understanding “would be dear”. She wanted to know if he were alone, or if there were any “human eyes…to whom he could intrust his wavering gaze”. For her, it would be a source of comfort to know that another human being was there as this loved one died. The speaker seems assured that as this person’s gaze wavered here on earth, “it settled firmly on Paradise” as he passed.

Stanza Two

To know if he was patient, part content,

Was dying as he thought, or different;

Was it a pleasant day to die,

And did the sunshine face his way?

The speaker asks a few questions about this person’s death. These questions appear to be ones that no one can answer. After all, she does not even know if anyone was present at his death. She asks “if he was patient” as he died. She wants to know if he seemed “content”. It would be comforting to know that he was not fearful as he died, but it seems she may never be able to know this for sure. She wonders if it was “a pleasant day to die”. It is possible that she does not even know the day on which this person died. Or perhaps, she simply does not know what the day was like in the place the loved one was. She wonders if “the sunshine face[d] his way”. Some critics have suggested that this line is in reference to God as the speaker wonders whether or not God shined his face down upon her loved one as he died. Others have claimed that this is merely questioning whether he got to experience the sun on his face at his time of death.

Stanza Three

What was his furthest mind, of home, or God,

Or what the distant say

At news that he ceased human nature

On such a day?

After questioning the physical properties of that day, the speaker begins to wonder about her loved one’s mind as he passed. She wonders if he thought “of home” most, or “of God”. She wonders if he thought about his loved ones, which were “distant” and wondered what they would say when they heard about his death. This line gives a little more insight into the circumstances of his death. It is unclear where he is or why, but it is obvious that for some reason, he is somewhere far away from his family and friends at the time “that he ceased human nature”.

Stanza Four

And wishes, had he any?

Just his sigh, accented,

Had been legible to me.

And was he confident until

Ill fluttered out in everlasting well?

With this stanza of To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear, the speaker continues to question her loved one’s state of mind as he passed from one life into the next. She wondered if he had any dying wishes. If he had, no one would ever know unless they were to discover that someone had been there on his dying day. She wonders if he spoke any last words, or if it were “just his sigh” that could be heard in his last moments. She was sure that had she been present, whatever noises he made would have “been legible” to her. She wonders if he was “confident” until all of his illness “fluttered out” until he would be well for all of eternity.

Stanza Five

And if he spoke, what name was best,

What first,

What one broke off with

At the drowsiest?

In this stanza of To Know Just How He Suffered Would Be Dear, the speaker wonders if this loved one spoke any names when he died. It seems that she might be wondering if her own name were spoken. It is clear that she wishes she had been there for him at the moment of his death. She believes he may have even spoken her name, and that makes her wish all the more for the one thing that can never change. She was not there when he died, and she will never know what he spoke or what he thought or felt at the moment of his death.

Stanza Six

Was he afraid, or tranquil?

Might he know

How conscious consciousness could grow,

Till love that was, and love too blest to be,

Meet—and the junction be Eternity?

The speaker wonders if her loved one was “afraid or tranquil”. This is the most natural question to ponder. Because she was not there, and this person was obviously very important to her, she longs to know that he was not afraid as he died. She wishes she could be sure that he was at peace, but she cannot. Therefore, she asks the question she feels compelled to ask, though no one can answer it. With the last few lines, the speaker implies that she and the lost one were lovers. She wonders if as he died, his “consciousness could grow” so that he would know that their love was “love too blest to be” and that they would meet again someday in eternity.

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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