'Remorse—is Memory—awake' by Emily Dickinson

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Remorse—is Memory—awake—
Her Parties all astir—
A Presence of Departed Acts—
At window—and at Door—

Its Past—set down before the Soul
And lighted with a Match—
Perusal—to facilitate—
And help Belief to stretch—

Remorse is cureless—the Disease
Not even God—can heal—
For 'tis His institution—and
The Adequate of Hell—

Editor 1 Interpretation

Remorse—is Memory—awake by Emily Dickinson: A Close Reading

Are you looking for a poem that will challenge your perceptions of grief and remorse? Look no further than Emily Dickinson's "Remorse—is Memory—awake." In this poem, Dickinson confronts the complex emotions that arise when we reflect on past mistakes. Through her use of language and imagery, she invites readers to consider the ways in which memories of regret can linger and haunt us long after the fact.

Structure and Form

One of the first things to note about "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is its unique structure. The poem consists of three stanzas, each with three lines. The brevity of these lines gives the poem a sense of urgency and intensity, as though the speaker is struggling to contain her emotions within the limits of language. This structure also reinforces the idea that the past is always with us, no matter how hard we try to forget it.

Another noteworthy aspect of the poem's form is its use of dashes. Dickinson is famous for her unconventional use of punctuation, and "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is no exception. The dashes that separate the lines and stanzas create a disjointed, fragmented effect that mirrors the speaker's scattered thoughts and emotions. At the same time, the dashes also serve to connect different ideas and images, suggesting that everything in the poem is interconnected.

Language and Imagery

In terms of language and imagery, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is packed with vivid and often unsettling descriptions. The poem's very first line sets the tone, as the speaker declares that "Remorse—is Memory—awake." The use of capital letters in "Remorse" and "Memory" adds weight to these words, suggesting that they are powerful forces that can shape our lives. The verb "awake" also implies that these forces have been dormant, but are now stirring to life.

Throughout the poem, Dickinson uses a variety of images to convey the speaker's sense of remorse. In the second stanza, for example, she compares the speaker's memories to "the Worm—forgives the Plough." This metaphorical description is both vivid and unsettling, suggesting that the speaker's past mistakes are like a worm that has been cut in half by a plow. The fact that the worm forgives the plow suggests that the speaker is struggling to forgive herself for her actions.

Other images in the poem are equally striking. In the third stanza, for example, Dickinson describes the speaker's memories as a "Pain—has an Element of Blank." This oxymoronic description suggests that the speaker's remorse is both intense and empty, like a void that cannot be filled. Similarly, the final line of the poem compares the speaker's memories to "The Horror from the Tomb." This vividly Gothic image suggests that the speaker's past mistakes are like a monstrous creature that has risen from the dead to haunt her.

Themes and Interpretations

So what is Dickinson trying to say with all of these vivid and unsettling images? At its core, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a meditation on the complexity of human emotions. The poem suggests that memories of past mistakes can be both painful and seductive, luring us back into a cycle of regret and self-recrimination. At the same time, however, the poem also suggests that there is a certain comfort in this cycle, as it allows us to feel a sense of connection to our past selves.

Another important theme in the poem is the idea of forgiveness. Throughout the poem, the speaker is struggling to forgive herself for her past mistakes. The fact that she compares her memories to a worm that forgives the plow suggests that she is seeking absolution, but is unsure how to find it. At the same time, however, the poem also suggests that forgiveness may be possible, even in the face of intense remorse.

Ultimately, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a deeply introspective and emotionally charged poem. Through her use of language and imagery, Dickinson invites readers to reflect on their own experiences of regret and self-recrimination. At the same time, however, the poem also offers a glimpse of hope, suggesting that even in the midst of our darkest moments, there is always the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.


In conclusion, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores some of the most complex and universal emotions we as humans experience. Through her use of language, imagery, and form, Emily Dickinson offers readers a glimpse into the turmoil of the human psyche, and invites us to confront our own feelings of regret and remorse. Whether you are a longtime fan of Dickinson's work or are encountering her poetry for the first time, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a must-read for anyone interested in the beauty and complexity of the written word.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Remorse—is Memory—awake: A Deep Dive into Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers even today. Among her many famous poems, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" stands out as a haunting and introspective piece that explores the nature of regret and the power of memory. In this article, we will take a deep dive into this classic poem and analyze its themes, structure, and language to gain a better understanding of its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a simple yet powerful statement: "Remorse—is Memory—awake." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it immediately establishes the central theme of regret and its connection to memory. The word "remorse" suggests a deep sense of guilt or regret, while "memory" implies a recollection of past events. By linking these two concepts together, Dickinson suggests that our memories can be a source of pain and regret, as they remind us of past mistakes and missed opportunities.

The second line of the poem further emphasizes this connection between memory and regret: "Her Parties all astir—/Because her Mind was awake." Here, Dickinson personifies memory as a woman who is hosting a party in the speaker's mind. The use of the pronoun "her" suggests that memory is a feminine force, which adds a layer of complexity to the poem's themes. The fact that memory is "awake" implies that it is usually dormant or inactive, but it has been stirred up by something in the speaker's mind. This could be a specific memory or a general feeling of regret that has resurfaced.

The third and fourth lines of the poem introduce a sense of urgency and desperation: "If you remember—if you remember—/The Party is "To-day!"" The repetition of the phrase "if you remember" creates a sense of urgency, as if the speaker is pleading with the reader to pay attention to what they are saying. The phrase "the Party is 'To-day!'" suggests that there is a deadline or a sense of immediacy to the situation. The use of capitalization and quotation marks around "To-day" also adds emphasis and draws attention to this key phrase.

The fifth and sixth lines of the poem introduce a sense of regret and longing: "Of vanished—boys and girls—/And that's "To-day" to me." Here, the speaker reflects on the past and the people who have been lost to time. The use of the word "vanished" suggests that these people are gone forever, and the speaker is left with only memories of them. The phrase "that's 'To-day' to me" implies that the speaker is living in the past, unable to move on from these memories and regrets.

The seventh and eighth lines of the poem introduce a sense of isolation and despair: "Her Heart has but one care—/And that's the "To-day" she sees." Here, Dickinson personifies memory again, this time as a woman with a singular focus on the present. The use of the word "care" suggests that memory is concerned with something, but it is not clear what that is. The phrase "And that's the 'To-day' she sees" implies that memory is limited to the present moment, unable to see beyond it. This creates a sense of isolation and despair, as if the speaker is trapped in a never-ending cycle of regret and nostalgia.

The final two lines of the poem bring the themes of regret and memory full circle: "And she in Memory's boat—/Ascends a Sea of Tears—." Here, Dickinson uses a metaphor to describe the speaker's journey through memory. The boat represents the speaker's mind, while the sea of tears represents the emotional turmoil that comes with regret and nostalgia. The use of the word "ascends" suggests that the speaker is rising up, perhaps towards a resolution or a sense of closure. However, the fact that they are still in the boat implies that they are not yet free from their memories and regrets.

In terms of structure, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a six-line poem with a simple ABABCC rhyme scheme. This structure creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which contrasts with the chaotic and emotional themes of the poem. The repetition of the phrase "if you remember" also creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, as if the poem is building towards a climax.

In terms of language, Dickinson's use of personification and metaphor adds depth and complexity to the poem's themes. By personifying memory as a woman, she creates a sense of intimacy and familiarity with the reader. By using a metaphor to describe the speaker's journey through memory, she creates a vivid and emotional image that resonates with readers.

Overall, "Remorse—is Memory—awake" is a powerful and introspective poem that explores the nature of regret and the power of memory. Through its use of personification, metaphor, and repetition, it creates a sense of urgency and desperation that draws the reader in and leaves them with a lasting impression. As with all of Dickinson's works, it is a testament to her skill as a poet and her ability to capture the complexities of the human experience in just a few lines of verse.

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