Adventures in Ethics and Science

Although certain bloggers of my acquaintance are suspicious of Emily Dickinson, I think she’s the bee’s knees. It wouldn’t be National Poetry Month without a selection from Emily.

In case you’re hesitating about clicking “Read on”, I will entertain, in the comments, a discussion of whether the position Miss Dickinson advocates in the poem is an ethical one. And, a bonus fun fact: nearly every Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


  1. #1 JM
    April 27, 2006

    “suspicious”…I like that!

  2. #2 chezjake
    April 27, 2006

    I knew about Emily and the Yellow Rose of Texas.

    The poetry to music one that really bends people’s minds is that you can sing Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening to the tune of Hernando’s Hideaway.

  3. #3 Alan Bender
    April 28, 2006

    I don’t think Ms. Dickinson is addressing an ethical issue unless we are confusing religion with ethics. Short poems are not typically straight forward. The capital letters are a tipoff in this poem, I think, Truth is not always what we think it is as this epigram intends,

    Keeping Secrets

    The Children lived in Israel
    They ate the Manna truth
    Christians swallowed it whole
    but slant it in the voting booth.

    It depends on how one reads “Circuit lies”

  4. #4 pjm
    April 29, 2006

    (I used to be a tour guide at the Dickinson Homestead…)

    The “Yellow Rose of Texas” thing comes from Dickinson’s childhood church attendance; most of the hymns were written in a regular metrical pattern which she (*smirk*) internalized. TYRoT happens to be on the same meter (as is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”)

    There’s something to be said for the awesome, revelatory moment when a realization of truth washes over you… much like watching a good sunrise. But for many people, facing the full-on truth would simply result in denial – hence the need to “tell it slant.” So I’ll back up Emily on this one.

  5. #5 Jonathan Morse
    July 24, 2006

    No, sorry: nearly every Emily Dickinson poem cannot be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” That’s an urban legend so persistent that there’s a whole entry about it in the reference book _An Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia_, but you’d think somebody would at least test it by singing. Offhand, the only Dickinson poem I can think of that does fit the melody is “I had a guinea golden.”

    On the other hand, a whole lot of Dickinson poems (including “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”) can be sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” That’s no accident, either. Dickinson got her rhythms from her hymn book, and “Amazing Grace” is a hymn written in a meter so common that hymn books call it common meter.

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