Summary of Success is Counted Sweetest

Emily Dickinson's Poem Success is Counted, Sweetest
Summary of Success is Counted Sweetest

Emily Dickinson was born Emily Elizabeth Dickinson on 10 December 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, the USA, and died on 15 May 1886. Shortly after graduating from Amherst Academy, Dickinson chose to live a recluse life during which she pursued a career in poetry. Though she wrote over 1700 poems, she saw the publication of only seven, and the rest were published posthumously.

There is no denying Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets America ever produced. Some of her popular poems are I Heard a Fly Buzz, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, I’m Nobody! Who Are You?, Hope is the Thing With Feathers, Success is Counted Sweetest, just to name a few.

Today, we are dealing with Dickinson’s poem Success is Counted Sweetest which was written in 1859 and published anonymously in 1864. So, what is the summary of this poem and what themes does it hold? Moreover, what’s the rhyme scheme of Success is Counted Sweetest and what analysis type of analysis awaits the poem? Let’s find out answers to all these questions in the respective sections below.

Success is Counted Sweetest Summary

Emily Dickinson’s poem, Success is Counted Sweetest, is about the distinction of perspective on success between the winner and the loser. The first stanza of the poem talks about success and need. It argues success is most appreciated by the ones who never succeed. Likewise, a full understanding of nectar requires ‘sorest need’. Without having sorest thirst, one cannot fully justify the importance of nectar.

The second and the third stanza of Success is Counted Sweetest share war imagery where the victorious take the flag while the defeated man is on verge of dying. It states that none of those who win a war can tell what victory is as clear as the ones who are defeated. The vanquished party of war agonizes because he has strived so hard to win and has failed.

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How to Make an Analysis of Success is Counted, Sweetest? What is its Rhyme Scheme?

Emily Dickinson’s poem Success is Counted Sweetest, which has 3 quatrains, follows an irregular rhyme. The first and the third stanza have a rhyming pattern of abcb while neither of four lines rhymes in the second stanza.

In the paradoxical sentence “Success is counted sweetest/ By those who ne’er succeed,” there is the use of alliteration. This literary device is used to give musical sense to the poem and here, the alliteration suggests the celebration of success. Furthermore, the term ‘comprehend’ means to understand the value of nectar and ‘need’ means thirst. Without having an acute thirst, one cannot fully appreciate the value of nectar.

The second and the third stanza of Success is Counted Sweetest are interconnected and hence, interdependent too. ‘the purple Host’ refers to an army of victorious men which is further elaborated by the taking of ‘Flag’. The capitalizations of ‘H’, ‘F’ and ‘V’ in ‘Host’ and ‘Flag’ and ‘Victory’, refer to a superior feeling of the victor.

The two dashes in the third stanza symbolize the transition of the vanquished army from life to death. In “As he defeated – dying -,” the first dash suggests that it takes time for the loser of war to breath his last. He does not die immediately, rather suffers a lot during this gap. Even when he is dying, he keeps craving for success. Here, the word ‘forbidden’ means the forbidden body of the vanquished soldier. “The distant strains of triumph” also complements that the dying soldier still wishes for triumph but it is ‘distant’, unreachable. That’s when he understands the meanings of success, victory, and triumph.

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What’s the Theme of Success is Counted, Sweetest?

Regarding the theme of the poem, Success is Counted Sweetest, Emily Dickinson primarily addresses the issues of success and need. Both the themes of success and need are interconnected. As the saying goes: “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” the value of success is understood when there is an acute need for it.

Likewise, another theme of Success is Counted Sweetest is ‘point of view’. The definition of success differs on the basis of point o view. For a victorious army, success is not a grand thing because he stands on that level. In contrast, for a vanquished army, success is always high above him and for that reason, he values success more than anyone.

Emily Dickinson’s Poem Success is Counted, Sweetest

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the Purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear.


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