'The Heart asks Pleasure-first' by Emily Dickinson

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The Heart asks Pleasure-first-
And then-Excuse from Pain-
And then-those little Anodyness
That deaden suffering-And then-to go to sleep-
And then-if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die-

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Heart Asks Pleasure-First by Emily Dickinson: A Literary Criticism

Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets of all time, and her work continues to inspire and captivate readers around the world. Her poem, "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First," is a beautiful and haunting exploration of the human experience, and it has been interpreted and analyzed by countless critics and scholars over the years. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will examine the themes, imagery, and language of the poem, and offer my own insights into what makes it so powerful and enduring.

The Poem

Before we dive into the analysis, let's take a moment to read the poem in its entirety:

The Heart asks Pleasure – first –
And then – Excuse from Pain –
And then – those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering –
And then – to go to sleep –
And then – if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die –

At first glance, the poem seems deceptively simple. It's a short, six-line poem that is written in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme of ABCBDD. But like many of Dickinson's works, there is much more going on beneath the surface.


One of the most prominent themes in "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First" is the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The heart, which is often seen as a symbol for emotions and desires, is the driving force behind this search. It asks for pleasure first and foremost, and then seeks to be excused from pain. It also seeks out anodynes, or things that can relieve suffering, and eventually longs for the ultimate release of death.

But beneath this search for pleasure and avoidance of pain is another theme: the inevitability of suffering and death. The heart may ask for pleasure first, but it knows that pain is always lurking around the corner. And when the pain becomes too much to bear, the heart seeks out anodynes to deaden the suffering. But even these are only temporary solutions. In the end, the heart may long for the release of death, if it is the will of its inquisitor.


One of the most striking things about "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First" is its use of imagery. Dickinson often used vivid and unexpected imagery in her poetry, and this poem is no exception.

The heart is personified as a creature with its own desires and needs, asking for pleasure and seeking to avoid pain. This personification makes the heart feel more relatable and human, and it emphasizes the central role that emotions play in our lives.

The anodynes that the heart seeks out are also described in vivid terms. They are "little" anodynes, which suggests that they are small and perhaps not very effective. They also "deaden" suffering, which implies that they don't actually eliminate it entirely. This use of imagery reinforces the idea that the heart is searching for something that it may never truly find.

Finally, the idea of death is described in a way that is both haunting and beautiful. The heart longs for the "privilege to die," which suggests that death is not something to be feared, but rather something that is desirable in certain circumstances. This imagery is both powerful and thought-provoking, and it adds to the overall impact of the poem.


Dickinson's use of language is often cited as one of her greatest strengths as a poet, and "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First" is no exception. The poem is full of rich and evocative language that draws the reader in and makes them feel the emotions that the heart is experiencing.

For example, the repetition of the word "And" at the beginning of each line creates a sense of urgency and momentum, as if the heart is racing towards its ultimate goal. The use of the word "Inquisitor" to describe the will that may determine whether the heart lives or dies is also striking, as it implies a sense of judgment and finality.

The rhyme scheme and meter of the poem also contribute to its impact. The AABB rhyme scheme of the first four lines creates a sense of symmetry and balance, while the DD rhyme at the end of the poem adds a sense of finality and conclusion. The iambic tetrameter meter creates a sense of rhythm and flow, which makes the poem easier to remember and more enjoyable to read aloud.


So what does "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First" mean? Like many of Dickinson's poems, there are multiple interpretations and layers of meaning that can be explored. Here are a few possible interpretations:

Ultimately, the beauty of "The Heart Asks Pleasure-First" is that it can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the reader's own experiences and perspective. But no matter how it is interpreted, the poem remains a powerful and haunting exploration of the human experience, and a testament to Emily Dickinson's skill as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to evoke emotions and touch the deepest corners of our hearts. One such poem that has stood the test of time and continues to resonate with readers is "The Heart asks Pleasure-first" by Emily Dickinson. This classic poem is a masterpiece that captures the essence of human desire and the pursuit of happiness.

Emily Dickinson was a prolific poet who lived in the 19th century. She was known for her unconventional style of writing, which often included the use of slant rhyme and unconventional punctuation. Her poems were deeply personal and explored themes such as death, love, and nature. "The Heart asks Pleasure-first" is one of her most famous works and is a testament to her talent as a poet.

The poem begins with the line, "The Heart asks Pleasure-first." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem and establishes the central theme of the pursuit of pleasure. The heart is often associated with emotions and desires, and in this poem, it is portrayed as the driving force behind our pursuit of happiness.

The second line of the poem reads, "And then, Excuse from Pain." This line suggests that pleasure is sought as a means of escaping pain. It is a natural human instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and this line captures this instinct perfectly. The pursuit of pleasure is often seen as a way to distract ourselves from the hardships of life.

The third line of the poem reads, "And then, those little Anodynes." Anodynes are substances or practices that relieve pain or distress. In this context, they refer to the small pleasures in life that provide temporary relief from the struggles we face. These little anodynes can be anything from a warm cup of tea to a good book. They are the small things that bring us joy and make life worth living.

The fourth line of the poem reads, "That deaden suffering." This line suggests that these little anodynes are a way of numbing the pain we feel. They provide temporary relief but do not address the root cause of our suffering. This line highlights the fact that the pursuit of pleasure can be a double-edged sword. While it can provide temporary relief, it can also prevent us from addressing the underlying issues that are causing our pain.

The fifth line of the poem reads, "And then, to go to sleep." This line suggests that the pursuit of pleasure can lead to a state of numbness or apathy. It is a way of escaping reality and avoiding the difficult emotions that come with it. This line highlights the fact that the pursuit of pleasure can be a form of avoidance.

The sixth line of the poem reads, "And then, if it should be." This line suggests that the pursuit of pleasure is not guaranteed to bring happiness. It is a gamble, and there is always the possibility that it will not pay off. This line highlights the fact that the pursuit of pleasure is not a surefire way to achieve happiness.

The seventh line of the poem reads, "The will of God be done." This line suggests that there is a higher power at work and that we are not in control of our own destiny. It is a reminder that the pursuit of pleasure should not be our sole focus in life. There are other factors at play, and we must be willing to accept whatever comes our way.

The eighth and final line of the poem reads, "The Flesh and the Devil." This line suggests that there are forces at work that can lead us astray. The flesh refers to our physical desires, while the devil refers to temptation and sin. This line highlights the fact that the pursuit of pleasure can lead us down a dangerous path if we are not careful.

Overall, "The Heart asks Pleasure-first" is a powerful poem that explores the human desire for happiness and the pursuit of pleasure. It highlights the fact that while pleasure can provide temporary relief from pain, it is not a guaranteed path to happiness. The poem serves as a reminder that there are other factors at play in our lives and that we must be willing to accept whatever comes our way. Emily Dickinson's masterful use of language and imagery make this poem a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

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