'Silence is all we dread' by Emily Dickinson

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Silence is all we dread.
There's Ransom in a Voice—
But Silence is Infinity.
Himself have not a face.

Edited by Peter Carter

Editor 1 Interpretation

Silence is all we dread by Emily Dickinson: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Are you afraid of the silence? Do you fear the moments when you are left alone with your thoughts, when the sounds fade away, and all that remains is an eerie stillness? If so, you are not alone. Emily Dickinson, one of the most celebrated poets of all time, knew the power of silence. In her poem "Silence is all we dread," she explores the fear and anxiety that this absence of sound can bring.

The Poem

Before we dive into the interpretation, let's take a moment to read the poem:

Silence is all we dread;
There's Ransom in a Voice -
But Silence is Infinity.
Himself have not a face.

The Interpretation

At first glance, this poem may seem simple and straightforward, but as we delve deeper into its meaning, we begin to see the complexity and depth of Dickinson's words.

The first line, "Silence is all we dread," sets the tone for the entire poem. It's a bold statement that immediately captures our attention. Dickinson is telling us that silence is something to be feared, that it holds power over us. But why? What is it about silence that makes us so uneasy?

The second line, "There's Ransom in a Voice," provides us with the answer. Dickinson is telling us that a voice has the power to free us from our fears. It can offer us comfort, guidance, and hope. But silence, on the other hand, offers us nothing. It's an empty void that leaves us alone with our thoughts and fears.

The third line, "But Silence is Infinity," is where the poem takes on a more philosophical tone. Dickinson is suggesting that silence is an endless void, a vast emptiness that we can never truly escape. It's a terrifying thought, and one that many of us can relate to. When we are alone in the silence, we are confronted with our own mortality, our own insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, the last line, "Himself have not a face," brings the poem to a close. Dickinson is reminding us that even though we fear silence, it's not something that can harm us. It's not a physical entity with a face or a body. It's simply an absence of sound.

The Analysis

Now that we have a basic understanding of the poem's meaning, let's take a closer look at some of the literary devices that Dickinson uses to convey her message.


One of the most prominent literary devices used in this poem is metaphor. Dickinson compares silence to infinity, emphasizing the vast emptiness that silence represents. She also compares a voice to a ransom, highlighting the power that it holds to free us from our fears.


Another literary device that Dickinson uses is personification. She gives silence the persona of an entity with power and agency, capable of inspiring dread and anxiety. This personification adds an extra layer of complexity to the poem, making it more relatable and easier to understand.


Finally, Dickinson employs paradox to further explore the theme of the poem. Throughout the poem, she suggests that silence is both something to be feared and something that cannot harm us. This paradox creates tension and adds depth to the poem, forcing us to think deeply about our own relationship with silence.

The Conclusion

"Silence is all we dread" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the fear and anxiety that silence can bring. Through the use of metaphor, personification, and paradox, Dickinson forces us to confront our own fears and anxieties, giving us a greater appreciation for the power of sound and the importance of human connection.

So, the next time you find yourself alone in the silence, remember the words of Emily Dickinson, and take comfort in the fact that silence may be all we dread, but it cannot harm us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Silence is All We Dread: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature, known for her unique style and unconventional themes. Her poem "Silence is all we dread" is a classic example of her work, exploring the fear and anxiety that can arise from silence. In this analysis, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this poem, examining its structure, language, and themes.

Structure and Language

"Silence is all we dread" is a short poem, consisting of only two stanzas. The first stanza is four lines long, while the second is six lines. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This lack of structure reflects the theme of the poem, which is the absence of sound and order.

The language of the poem is simple and direct, with no flowery or ornate language. Dickinson uses short, declarative sentences to convey her message. The poem is written in the first person, which creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy. The speaker is addressing the reader directly, sharing her thoughts and feelings.


The central theme of "Silence is all we dread" is the fear of the unknown. The poem explores the idea that silence can be more frightening than noise, because it leaves us with nothing to hold onto. When there is no sound, we are left alone with our thoughts and fears, and this can be a terrifying experience.

The poem also touches on the theme of mortality. The second stanza describes the silence of death, and the fear that comes with it. The speaker wonders what it will be like to die, and whether there will be any sound in the afterlife. This theme is a common one in Dickinson's work, as she often wrote about death and the afterlife.


Let's take a closer look at each stanza of the poem, and examine the meaning behind the words.

Stanza One:

Silence is all we dread; There's Ransom in a Voice— But Silence is Infinity. Himself have not a face.

The first line of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The speaker declares that silence is what we fear the most. This line is a powerful statement, as it suggests that silence is more frightening than anything else we might encounter.

The second line introduces the idea that there is "Ransom in a Voice." This phrase is a bit cryptic, but it suggests that there is something valuable in the sound of a voice. Perhaps it is the comfort of knowing that we are not alone, or the reassurance that comes from hearing someone else's thoughts and feelings.

The third line is the most striking in the stanza. The speaker declares that "Silence is Infinity." This line suggests that silence is not just the absence of sound, but something much larger and more profound. It is a void that stretches out into infinity, leaving us with nothing to hold onto.

The final line of the stanza is a bit enigmatic. The speaker declares that "Himself have not a face." This line could be interpreted in a number of ways, but it seems to suggest that even the speaker herself is faceless in the face of silence. She is stripped of her identity and left with nothing but her fear.

Stanza Two:

I'm ceded, I've stopped being Theirs; The name They dropped upon my face With water, in the country church Is finished using, now,

And They can put it with my Dolls, My childhood, and the string of spools, I've finished threading—too— Baptized, before, without the choice,

But this time, consciously, of Grace— Unto supremest name— Called to my Full—The Crescent dropped— Existence's whole Arc, filled up,

With one small Diadem. My second Rank—too small the first— Crowned—Crowing—on my Father's breast— A half unconscious Queen—

But this time—Adequate—Erect, With Will to choose, or to reject, And I choose, just a Crown—

The second stanza of the poem is longer and more complex than the first. It describes the speaker's journey from childhood to adulthood, and her acceptance of her own mortality.

The first four lines of the stanza describe the speaker's sense of detachment from the world. She declares that she has "stopped being Theirs," and that the name they gave her has been discarded. This suggests that she has moved beyond the constraints of society and is now free to explore her own thoughts and feelings.

The next four lines describe the speaker's childhood, and the things that she has left behind. She mentions her dolls and the string of spools, which suggests that she has outgrown these childish things. She also mentions her baptism, which was done without her choice. This suggests that she was born into a certain religion or belief system, but has now chosen her own path.

The next four lines are the most enigmatic in the stanza. The speaker declares that she has been "called to my Full," and that the "Crescent dropped" and "Existence's whole Arc, filled up." These lines suggest that the speaker has reached a state of enlightenment or spiritual fulfillment. She has found her place in the world and is at peace with herself.

The final four lines of the stanza describe the speaker's acceptance of her own mortality. She declares that she is now a "half unconscious Queen," but that this time she is "Adequate—Erect." This suggests that she is no longer afraid of death, but is ready to face it with dignity and grace. She chooses to wear a crown, which symbolizes her acceptance of her own power and authority.


"Silence is all we dread" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the fear and anxiety that can arise from silence. It is a testament to Emily Dickinson's unique style and unconventional themes, and it continues to resonate with readers today. By examining the structure, language, and themes of this poem, we can gain a deeper understanding of Dickinson's work and the impact it has had on American literature.

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