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He preached upon "Breadth" till it argued him narrow— Analysis

Author: poem of Emily Dickinson Type: poem Views: 17

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He preached upon "Breadth" till it argued him narrow—
The Broad are too broad to define
And of "Truth" until it proclaimed him a Liar—
The Truth never flaunted a Sign—

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence
As Gold the Pyrites would shun—
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus
To meet so enabled a Man!

Edited by Peter Carter


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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The term Breadth bears a religious connotation. The preacher is attempting to define Breadth, which is a quality of the divine. His attempts are ridiculed by the speaker. According to the speaker, the divine cannot be defined.

| Posted on 2010-08-27 | by a guest

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The paradox in the first two lines is that one can be so broad, liberal, in one’s views as to be actually narrow-minded: the churchman’s preoccupation with defining how important it is to be broad-minded has, paradoxically, shown that he is very narrow-minded indeed. If a person is truly “broad” in thinking, it will not be possible to define him/her because the very nature of true liberal thinking is that it is so willing to keep stretching to accommodate new concepts that it simply cannot be defined/confined.
This churchman is so sure he has the truth yet, paradoxically, his words show him to be far from the truth because truth is something lived, not something debated or made into an issue of contention: “Truth never flaunted a sign.”
In the second stanza the preacher is contrasted with Jesus—the One whose “breadth” embraces prostitutes and other social outcasts and is forever reaching beyond narrow orthodoxy. The preacher’s presence is “counterfeit”—as counterfeit as fool’s gold in comparison to the pure metal. The implied suggestion that the preacher is not only a hypocrite but also a fool prepares us for the climactic irony of the last two lines in which the speaker ironically suggests that Jesus (the truth, the gold) would be covered with confusion (embarrassed by His own “simplicity”) to meet such an able preacher! Again the contrast is established between the One who simply lives the truth and the one who can only preach about it with skill and complexity. The irony is firmly held in the tension between the adjectives “innocent” and “enabled”: Jesus, in purity and innocence seems so unimpressive compared with this erudite, eloquent, talented man—but of course we are left with the sense that this innocent, almost shy Person is the gold against which the pyrite of the preacher is tested and proved false.

| Posted on 2009-10-20 | by a guest

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