'Reverse cannot befall' by Emily Dickinson

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Reverse cannot befall
That fine Prosperity
Whose Sources are interior—
As soon—Adversity

A Diamond—overtake
In far—Bolivian Ground—
Misfortune hath no implement
Could mar it—if it found—

Editor 1 Interpretation

Reverse Cannot Befall: A Literary Criticism of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem


In her poetic oeuvre, Emily Dickinson is known for her sharp observations on life, death, nature, and the human psyche. Her poems are often cryptic, using unconventional syntax and punctuation to create a unique voice that speaks to the reader in a way that is both enigmatic and profound. One such poem is "Reverse cannot befall," a work that has captured the imagination of many readers since its publication in the late 19th century.

But what is "Reverse cannot befall" about? What does it mean? In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore these questions in detail, examining the poem's structure, language, and themes to shed light on its rich complexity.



At first glance, "Reverse cannot befall" appears to be a simple poem, consisting of just two quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Dickinson has employed several structural devices to create a sense of tension and unease.

The first quatrain sets the scene, describing the speaker's sense of security in their current situation. They are "safe" and "supplied," and there is a sense of stability in the world around them. However, this stability is undercut by the final line of the quatrain: "Without endangerment from the skies." The use of the negative ("without") and the word "endangerment" create a sense of foreboding, hinting that something is about to happen.

The second quatrain then turns this foreboding into a stark reality. The speaker's sense of security is shattered by a sudden reversal of fortune, symbolized by the "bolt" that strikes them. The rhyme scheme is also disrupted, with the final line of the poem ("As syllable from sound") standing alone. This creates a sense of abruptness and finality, as if the poem itself has been struck by the same bolt that has affected the speaker.


As with many of Dickinson's poems, the language of "Reverse cannot befall" is rich with symbolism and ambiguity. The use of the word "reverse" suggests a turning back or undoing of what has been done, while the phrase "cannot befall" creates a sense of inevitability. This creates a paradox that lies at the heart of the poem: the speaker feels safe and secure, but at the same time, they know that this safety is fragile and can be taken away at any moment.

The word "bolt" is also significant, evoking images of lightning strikes and sudden, violent changes. This is reinforced by the phrase "out of the blue," which suggests that the speaker's reversal of fortune comes without warning or explanation. The final line of the poem, "As syllable from sound," is more difficult to interpret, but it may suggest a sense of fragmentation or disintegration, as if the speaker's world has been shattered into its constituent parts.


At its core, "Reverse cannot befall" is a meditation on the fragility of human existence and the capriciousness of fate. The speaker's sense of security is illusory, and they are reminded that they are always at the mercy of forces beyond their control. The use of the word "bolt" suggests that this reversal of fortune is sudden and violent, adding to the sense of dread and unease that permeates the poem.

However, there is also a sense of resignation in the poem. The use of the phrase "cannot befall" suggests that the speaker knows that their safety is temporary and that they will eventually be exposed to danger. This acceptance of the inevitability of fate is a recurring theme in Dickinson's work, and it speaks to a deep sense of fatalism that runs through much of her poetry.


So what does "Reverse cannot befall" mean? As with many of Dickinson's poems, there are no easy answers, and the poem's meaning is likely to be different for each reader. However, I believe that the poem speaks to a universal human experience: the knowledge that we are always at the mercy of forces beyond our control.

The poem's use of paradox and ambiguity creates a sense of tension and unease, suggesting that the speaker's sense of security is illusory. The sudden reversal of fortune symbolized by the "bolt" is a reminder that we are never truly safe, and that our lives can be upended at any moment.

At the same time, there is a sense of acceptance in the poem, a recognition that we cannot control our fate and that we must learn to live with the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. This fatalistic worldview is a hallmark of Dickinson's poetry, and it speaks to a deep sense of resignation that is both unsettling and comforting.


In "Reverse cannot befall," Emily Dickinson has crafted a poem that speaks to the universal human experience of living in a world that is often unpredictable and uncertain. Through the use of paradox, ambiguity, and symbolism, she creates a sense of tension and unease that is both unsettling and profound.

While the poem's meaning is open to interpretation, its themes of fragility, capriciousness, and fatalism are likely to resonate with readers from all walks of life. "Reverse cannot befall" is a powerful reminder of the precariousness of human existence and the need to find meaning and purpose in a world that is often beyond our control.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Reverse Cannot Befall: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her works continue to captivate readers with their depth, complexity, and beauty. One of her most famous poems is "Reverse cannot befall," a short but powerful piece that explores the nature of fate, destiny, and the human condition. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its themes, structure, and language.

First, let us examine the poem itself:

Reverse cannot befall That fine Prosperity Whose Sources are interior As soon — Adversity

A Diamond — robust A Diamond of the Mind Whose Topaz setting, be itself And Diadem — is found —

What Beggar but to Choose To die, instead of live, Through all the Masquerading Of endless opportunity?

At first glance, "Reverse cannot befall" may seem like a simple poem, but upon closer inspection, it reveals a wealth of meaning and complexity. The poem is structured in three stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The first stanza sets up the central theme of the poem: the idea that true prosperity comes from within and cannot be taken away by external circumstances. The second stanza uses the metaphor of a diamond to illustrate this point, suggesting that the true value of a person lies in their mind and spirit, rather than in their material possessions. The final stanza poses a rhetorical question, asking why anyone would choose to die rather than live, even in the face of adversity.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is its use of language. Dickinson's writing is known for its economy and precision, and "Reverse cannot befall" is no exception. The poem is full of rich imagery and metaphors that convey complex ideas in just a few words. For example, the phrase "Whose Sources are interior" suggests that true prosperity comes from within, while the metaphor of the diamond implies that the mind is a precious and valuable thing. The use of the word "Masquerading" in the final stanza is also significant, as it suggests that the endless opportunities of life can be deceptive and misleading, and that true fulfillment comes from within.

Another important aspect of this poem is its themes. "Reverse cannot befall" explores the nature of fate and destiny, and suggests that true prosperity and happiness come from within, rather than from external circumstances. This idea is closely tied to Dickinson's own life and beliefs, as she was known for her reclusive lifestyle and her focus on inner spiritual experiences. The poem also touches on the idea of choice and agency, suggesting that even in the face of adversity, we have the power to choose how we live our lives.

In conclusion, "Reverse cannot befall" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of fate, destiny, and the human condition are timeless, and its use of language and imagery is both precise and evocative. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply looking for a thought-provoking read, this poem is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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