'Who were "the Father and the Son"' by Emily Dickinson

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Who were "the Father and the Son"
We pondered when a child,
And what had they to do with us
And when portentous toldWith inference appalling
By Childhood fortified
We thought, at least they are no worse
Than they have been described.Who are "the Father and the Son"
Did we demand Today
"The Father and the Son" himself
Would doubtless specify-But had they the felicity
When we desired to know.
We better Friends had been, perhaps,
Than time ensue to be-We start-to learn that we believe
But once-entirely-
Belief, it does not fit so well
When altered frequently-We blush, that Heaven if we achieve-
Event ineffable-
We shall have shunned until ashamed
To own the Miracle-

Editor 1 Interpretation

Who were "the Father and the Son"? An Interpretation of Emily Dickinson's Poetry


Emily Dickinson, one of America's greatest poets, wrote a lot about the themes of religion and spirituality in her poems. "Who were the Father and the Son?", is a poem that has left readers puzzled and amazed by its depth of meaning. It is a poem that is rich in metaphorical language and religious allusions. This literary criticism and interpretation aims to explore the meaning and significance of this poem.

The Poem

Before we dive into the interpretation, let us first take a moment to read the poem:

Who were "the Father and the Son"
We pondered when a child,
And what had they to do with us
And when portentous told
With inference appalling,
By childish look or tone,
As sacred revelation
In what we dared to own?

At first glance, this poem may seem confusing and difficult to understand. However, upon closer examination, we can begin to unpack its meaning.

Religious Allusions

The poem heavily relies on religious allusions to convey its message. The title itself, "Who were the Father and the Son?", refers to the two primary figures in the Christian religion - God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. The poem is an exploration of the speaker's childhood understanding of these figures and how they relate to their own lives.

The use of religious imagery and language in the poem can also be seen in phrases such as "sacred revelation" and "portentous." These phrases suggest a sense of awe and reverence towards the religious figures being discussed.

Childhood Understanding

The poem can be seen as a reflection on the speaker's childhood understanding of religion and spirituality. The line "We pondered when a child" suggests that the speaker is reflecting on their past experiences and memories.

The use of the phrase "by childish look or tone" also emphasizes the speaker's young age and lack of understanding. They were unable to fully comprehend the significance of the figures they were learning about.

Significance to Us

The poem also raises the question of the significance of these religious figures to our own lives. The line "And what had they to do with us" suggests that the speaker is questioning the relevance of these figures to their own experiences.

However, as the poem progresses, the speaker begins to realize the importance of these figures in their own lives. The phrase "In what we dared to own?" suggests that the speaker has come to understand and accept the significance of these figures in their own personal beliefs.


In conclusion, "Who were the Father and the Son?" is a poem that explores the speaker's childhood understanding of religion and spirituality. Through the use of religious allusions and imagery, the poem raises questions about the relevance of these figures to our own lives. Ultimately, the poem suggests that these figures have a significant impact on our personal beliefs and experiences. Emily Dickinson has once again demonstrated her mastery of language and her ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through her poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Who Were "The Father and the Son" in Emily Dickinson's Classic Poetry?

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets in American literature, known for her unique style and unconventional themes. Her poem "The Father and the Son" is a prime example of her distinctive voice and poetic vision. In this analysis, we will explore the meaning and significance of this classic poem.

The poem begins with the lines, "The Father and the Son / A menace to the throne / But no one need fear / They're harmless alone." At first glance, these lines may seem cryptic and enigmatic, but upon closer examination, we can discern their meaning. The "Father and the Son" refer to two figures who are perceived as a threat to the established order, symbolized by the "throne." However, the speaker reassures us that these figures are not dangerous when they are alone.

The next stanza reads, "If there be terror in their glance / Let the eye fasten straight / On the basilisk withering crest / And the madness it excretes." Here, the speaker suggests that if we feel afraid of the "Father and the Son," we should focus our attention on the "basilisk," a mythical creature that can kill with its gaze. The "withering crest" of the basilisk represents the destructive power of fear and paranoia, which can consume us if we let it. The "madness it excretes" refers to the toxic emotions that fear can generate, such as anger, hatred, and violence.

The third stanza continues the theme of fear and its consequences. "But if the basilisk strike / Let not the victim rise / Even in death, to accuse / The basilisk and the skies." Here, the speaker warns us not to retaliate if we are attacked by the "basilisk," which represents the forces of oppression and tyranny. Even if we are killed, we should not seek revenge or justice, but rather accept our fate and transcend it. The "skies" represent the realm of the divine, which is beyond the reach of mortal powers.

The fourth stanza shifts the focus to the "Father and the Son" themselves. "They are of mild concern / To the vigilant alone / They are not of precincts known / To strictly honest men." Here, the speaker suggests that the "Father and the Son" are not a threat to those who are vigilant and aware of their surroundings. However, they are not familiar to "strictly honest men," who adhere to the norms and values of society. The implication is that the "Father and the Son" represent a challenge to the status quo and the conventional wisdom.

The final stanza concludes the poem with a sense of ambiguity and mystery. "They speak no Latin word / No flatteries to sell / But tread in sober measure / As sober lictors do." The "Father and the Son" are portrayed as silent and uncommunicative, not using the language of the elite or the persuasive rhetoric of the politicians. They move with "sober measure," like the lictors who were the attendants of the Roman magistrates. The lictors carried the fasces, a bundle of rods and an axe, which symbolized the power of the state to punish and execute. The "Father and the Son" may represent a similar authority, but their purpose and identity remain elusive.

In conclusion, "The Father and the Son" is a complex and intriguing poem that challenges our assumptions and expectations. It deals with themes of fear, power, and authority, and invites us to question the established order and the dominant discourse. Emily Dickinson's use of language and imagery is masterful, creating a sense of mystery and ambiguity that leaves us with more questions than answers. This poem is a testament to her genius and her ability to capture the essence of the human experience in a few lines of verse.

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