'Had I presumed to hope' by Emily Dickinson

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Had I presumed to hope—
The loss had been to Me
A Value—for the Greatness' Sake—
As Giants—gone away—

Had I presumed to gain
A Favor so remote—
The failure but confirm the Grace
In further Infinite—

'Tis failure—not of Hope—
But Confident Despair—
Advancing on Celestial Lists—
With faint—Terrestial power—

'Tis Honor—though I die—
For That no Man obtain
Till He be justified by Death—
This—is the Second Gain—

Editor 1 Interpretation

Had I Presumed to Hope: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Oh, what a joy it is to delve into the works of Emily Dickinson! There's something about her poetry that just captures the imagination and takes the reader on a journey through the complexities of life. One of her most intriguing poems is "Had I Presumed to Hope," which explores themes of hope, despair, and the human condition. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll dissect the poem line by line, exploring its meaning and impact.

Line 1: Had I presumed to hope

The poem's opening line immediately grabs the reader's attention with its sense of uncertainty and hesitancy. "Had I presumed to hope" suggests that the speaker is questioning the very act of hoping, perhaps because of past disappointments or a fear of setting oneself up for further failure. It's a powerful sentiment that speaks to the human condition - we've all been there, staring down the prospect of hope and wondering whether it's worth the risk.

Line 2: The loss had been to me

The second line of the poem builds on the sense of hesitation established in the first. "The loss had been to me" suggests that the speaker has experienced some kind of loss or disappointment in the past, and is still grappling with the aftermath. The use of the past perfect tense - "had been" - reinforces the idea that this is something that happened in the past but still has an impact on the present.

Line 3: A value for their recovery

The third line introduces an interesting twist to the poem. "A value for their recovery" suggests that the speaker has something to gain from the recovery of others - perhaps in the form of support or companionship. This is a subtle but important point, as it suggests that the speaker isn't just concerned with their own well-being, but is also invested in the recovery and happiness of others.

Line 4: The setting sun intrudes the frames

This line is where the poem starts to get really interesting. "The setting sun intrudes the frames" is a beautifully evocative image, conjuring up visions of a dusky landscape and the play of light and shadow. But it's also a metaphor for the way that hope can sometimes intrude on our lives, disrupting the patterns and routines we've established for ourselves.

Line 5: The familiar clock begins

The fifth line continues this idea of disruption and change, with the mention of "the familiar clock." The clock is a symbol of routine and stability, but the fact that it "begins" suggests that even this stable element of the speaker's life is subject to change and upheaval.

Line 6: 'Tis easy to articulate

The sixth line introduces an interesting contrast to the previous lines. "Tis easy to articulate" suggests that the speaker is able to describe their feelings and experiences with ease, but the fact that this is followed by a dash suggests that there's more to the story - something that the speaker is struggling to articulate or express.

Line 7: But harder to suffice

The final line of the poem reinforces this sense of struggle and difficulty. "But harder to suffice" suggests that the speaker is grappling with something that can't be easily put into words or resolved. It's a powerful conclusion to the poem, leaving the reader with the sense that there's more going on beneath the surface than what's been explicitly stated.


In conclusion, "Had I Presumed to Hope" is a beautiful and complex poem that explores the human experience of hope and despair. Through its use of evocative imagery and subtle metaphors, it captures the uncertainty and hesitancy that we all feel when faced with the prospect of hope. But it also suggests that, despite the difficulty and struggle, hope is still worth pursuing - both for our own recovery and for the benefit of those around us. It's a powerful message that speaks to the very heart of the human condition, and is a testament to Emily Dickinson's genius as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Had I Presumed to Hope: 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 inspire and captivate readers to this day. Among her many masterpieces is the classic poem, "Had I Presumed to Hope," which is a poignant reflection on the nature of hope and the human condition. In this article, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this poem to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the line, "Had I presumed to hope," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The speaker is acknowledging that hope is a risky and uncertain endeavor, and that to even entertain the idea of hope is to open oneself up to disappointment and heartache. This sentiment is echoed in the second line, which reads, "The loss had been to me," indicating that the speaker has already experienced loss and is wary of hoping for anything more.

The first stanza continues with the lines, "The failure poignant in my mind, / The faith at which I looked / Gone out upon the shore." Here, the speaker is describing the pain of past failures and the loss of faith that comes with them. The imagery of something being "gone out upon the shore" suggests that the speaker's faith has been washed away by the tide, leaving her feeling adrift and uncertain.

In the second stanza, the speaker reflects on the nature of hope itself, saying, "Let every bird but choose / And I resign my quest." This line suggests that the speaker is willing to give up on hope altogether if it means avoiding the pain of disappointment. However, the next line, "The risk is we may meet," indicates that the speaker is not entirely ready to give up on hope just yet. The use of the word "risk" suggests that the speaker is aware of the potential for pain and disappointment, but is willing to take that risk in order to pursue hope.

The third stanza continues this theme, with the lines, "What unforeseen adjournment / Of doubt has taken place / Before hope dared to undertake / In her empyreal race!" Here, the speaker is reflecting on the unpredictable nature of hope, and how doubt can often derail even the most well-intentioned hopes and dreams. The use of the word "empyreal" suggests that hope is something divine and otherworldly, and that to pursue it is to reach for something beyond the mundane.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, with the lines, "What consternation when / Time's crucial torrent breaks, / And rakes the channels clean, / Obliterates the tracks!" Here, the speaker is describing the moment when hope is either fulfilled or dashed, and the emotional turmoil that comes with it. The use of the word "consternation" suggests a sense of panic or confusion, while the image of time's "crucial torrent" breaking and obliterating tracks suggests a sense of finality and irrevocability.

Overall, "Had I Presumed to Hope" is a powerful and moving reflection on the nature of hope and the human condition. Through its use of vivid imagery and powerful language, the poem captures the pain and uncertainty that comes with pursuing hope, while also acknowledging the beauty and divinity of that pursuit. Whether you are a longtime fan of Emily Dickinson or a newcomer to her work, this poem is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever dared to hope for something more.

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