'A little overflowing word' by Emily Dickinson

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A little overflowing word
That any, hearing, had inferred
For Ardor or for Tears,
Though Generations pass away,
Traditions ripen and decay,
As eloquent appears—

Edited by Peter Carter

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Little Overflowing Word: A Detailed Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever come across a poem that leaves you in awe, wondering how someone could fit so much meaning into so few words? Emily Dickinson's poem, "A little overflowing word," is one such poem. Despite its brevity, this poem is packed with intricate and layered meaning that demands close examination. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various interpretations of the poem and the literary devices employed by Dickinson to convey her message.

Overview of the Poem

Before delving into the interpretation of the poem, let's take a moment to appreciate the poem itself. Here is the full text of "A little overflowing word":

A little overflowing word

That any, hearing, had inferred

A love that ne'er was said.

The heart that paused upon the phrase

Had it a thousand times been told

Would frenzy hold

Anew, upon the world, and all its tunes be hushed,

Nor any dare to speak a syllable again.

-- Emily Dickinson

At first glance, the poem seems relatively straightforward. The speaker is describing a word that is overflowing with meaning, despite not being explicitly written or spoken. The poem suggests that this word hints at a love that has never been expressed, and that the repetition of this word would cause a frenzy that would silence all other sounds. However, as we will see, there is much more to this poem than meets the eye.


One of the most striking things about Dickinson's poetry is the ambiguity of her language. She often uses metaphors and symbolism to convey her thoughts, leaving the reader to interpret her meaning. "A little overflowing word" is no exception.

Love and Language

At its core, "A little overflowing word" is about the power of language to convey complex emotions. The poem suggests that a single word, overflowing with meaning, can communicate a deep love that has never been expressed explicitly. This suggests that language is more than just a tool for communication – it can also be a vehicle for conveying emotions and experiences that might be difficult to express directly.

The Unspoken

Another theme in the poem is the power of the unspoken. The love hinted at by the overflowing word has never been expressed, yet its power is still palpable. The poem suggests that sometimes what is left unsaid can be even more powerful than what is spoken aloud. This reinforces the idea that language is not always the best means of communication, and that sometimes silence can speak louder than words.

Frenzy and Silence

The final stanza of the poem introduces the idea of frenzy and silence. The repetition of the overflowing word would cause a frenzy that would silence all other sounds. This suggests that the power of the word is so great that it would overwhelm all other sounds and distractions. It also reinforces the idea of the power of language, suggesting that a single word can be so potent that it can silence all other noise.

The Poetic Form

One aspect of the poem that is often overlooked is its form. The poem consists of six stanzas, each with three lines. The first and second lines of each stanza have six syllables, while the third line has eight syllables. This creates a sense of structure and rhythm to the poem, which is reinforced by the rhyming scheme (ABCBDB).

The Use of Metaphor

Finally, we should consider the use of metaphor in the poem. The overflowing word is a metaphor for the unspoken love that is hinted at but never expressed. This metaphor is employed throughout the poem, and it is what gives the poem its depth and complexity.

Literary Devices

In addition to the themes and metaphors explored in the poem, "A little overflowing word" employs a variety of literary devices to convey its message.


Repetition is used throughout the poem, both in the repetition of the overflowing word and in the repetition of the rhyme scheme. This creates a sense of rhythm and structure that reinforces the poem's themes.


The poem also uses alliteration to create a sense of musicality and rhythm. For example, the phrase "ne'er was said" in the second line uses alliteration to emphasize the idea of unspoken love.


As we have already discussed, the poem employs metaphor to create multiple layers of meaning. The overflowing word is a metaphor for the unspoken love that is hinted at throughout the poem.


The poem uses imagery to paint a vivid picture of the power of language. The idea of a single word causing a frenzy that silences all other sounds is a powerful image that reinforces the poem's themes.


In conclusion, "A little overflowing word" is a deceptively simple poem that is packed with meaning and nuance. The poem explores the power of language to convey complex emotions, and the idea that sometimes what is left unsaid can be even more powerful than what is spoken aloud. The use of metaphor, repetition, and imagery adds depth and complexity to the poem, making it a powerful meditation on the power of words. Despite its brevity, "A little overflowing word" is a poem that rewards careful reading and contemplation, and it is a testament to Emily Dickinson's skill as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Little Overflowing Word: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature. Her poems are known for their unique style, unconventional punctuation, and profound insights into the human condition. One of her most famous poems is "A little overflowing word," which captures the essence of her poetic genius. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with a simple statement: "A little overflowing word." At first glance, this may seem like a trivial phrase, but as we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that it is a powerful metaphor for the human experience. The word "overflowing" suggests abundance, excess, and a lack of containment. It implies that something is spilling over, bursting forth, and cannot be contained. This word could represent a range of emotions, ideas, or experiences that are too intense to be expressed in a single word.

The second line of the poem reads, "That any, hearing, had inferred." Here, Dickinson is acknowledging the limitations of language. She suggests that even the most eloquent words cannot fully capture the depth and complexity of human experience. The word "inferred" implies that the listener or reader must interpret the meaning of the word based on their own experiences and understanding. This line also highlights the importance of empathy and understanding in communication. It is not enough to simply hear the words; we must also try to understand the emotions and experiences behind them.

The third line of the poem reads, "From what it meant, a mind apart." Here, Dickinson is emphasizing the subjective nature of language. The meaning of a word can vary depending on the context, the speaker, and the listener. The phrase "a mind apart" suggests that each person has their own unique perspective and interpretation of the world. This line also highlights the importance of context in communication. We cannot fully understand the meaning of a word without considering the context in which it is used.

The fourth line of the poem reads, "Accomplished comprehension came." Here, Dickinson is suggesting that true understanding can only be achieved through empathy and active listening. The word "accomplished" implies that understanding is not easy or automatic. It requires effort, patience, and an open mind. The word "comprehension" suggests a deep understanding that goes beyond surface-level interpretation. This line also highlights the importance of communication in building relationships and fostering empathy.

The fifth and final line of the poem reads, "But mostly, I think, for love's sake." Here, Dickinson is suggesting that the ultimate goal of communication is love. The phrase "for love's sake" implies that communication is not just about exchanging information or ideas; it is about building connections and relationships. This line also highlights the importance of vulnerability in communication. To truly connect with others, we must be willing to share our emotions, experiences, and perspectives.

In terms of structure, the poem is written in a single stanza with five lines. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme or meter. This style of writing allows Dickinson to focus on the meaning and message of the poem rather than conforming to a specific structure. The lack of punctuation also adds to the poem's unconventional style and emphasizes the fluidity and subjectivity of language.

In terms of literary devices, the poem is rich in metaphor and imagery. The word "overflowing" is a metaphor for the abundance and excess of human experience. The phrase "a mind apart" is a metaphor for the subjective nature of language and interpretation. The word "comprehension" is a metaphor for deep understanding and empathy. The lack of punctuation also creates a sense of ambiguity and fluidity, which adds to the poem's overall message.

In conclusion, "A little overflowing word" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of Emily Dickinson's poetic genius. Through its use of metaphor, imagery, and unconventional structure, the poem explores the limitations and possibilities of language, the importance of empathy and understanding in communication, and the ultimate goal of love. This poem is a testament to Dickinson's ability to capture the complexity and beauty of the human experience in a few simple words.

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