'Step lightly on this narrow spot-' by Emily Dickinson

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Step lightly on this narrow spot-
The broadest Land that grows
Is not so ample as the Breast
These Emerald Seams enclose.Step lofty, for this name be told
As far as Cannon dwell
Or Flag subsist or Fame export
Her deathless Syllable.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot: A Close Reading of Emily Dickinson’s Poem

Emily Dickinson was a master of conveying complex emotions and ideas through her poetry. In her poem, "Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot," she explores the theme of mortality, highlighting the fleeting nature of our existence and the importance of cherishing every moment we have.

Background and Context

Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which it was written. Dickinson lived in the 19th century, a time when death was a common occurrence, especially for women. Many of her poems deal with death, grief, and the afterlife, and "Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot" is no exception. It was written in 1862, during the Civil War, a time of great upheaval and violence in America, which undoubtedly influenced Dickinson's thoughts on mortality and the fragility of life.

Poem Analysis

The poem is only three stanzas long, but each line is packed with meaning and imagery. Let's take a closer look at each stanza:

Stanza One

Step lightly on this narrow spot, The broadest land that grows, Is not so ample as the breast These emerald seams enclose.

The first line of the poem sets the tone for what is to come. Dickinson implores the reader to "step lightly," as if we are walking on thin ice, aware of our own mortality. The "narrow spot" is a metaphor for life, which is short and full of challenges. The second line contrasts this with the "broadest land that grows," a reminder that even the largest and most expansive things in life are still limited. The third and fourth lines introduce the image of "emerald seams," which enclose our breasts. This is a reference to the earth, which is the source of all life and sustenance. Our bodies are made up of the same elements as the earth, and we are connected to it in a profound way.

Stanza Two

Love is anterior to life, Posterior to death, Initial of creation, and The exponent of breath.

In this stanza, Dickinson explores the idea that love is the foundation of all life. It is "anterior to life," meaning it existed before we were born and will continue to exist after we die, "posterior to death." Love is the very beginning of creation, the "initial," and it is also the force that gives us breath, the "exponent of breath." This line is particularly powerful, as it suggests that our ability to love is what gives us the strength to keep living.

Stanza Three

It is the sunlight—wrestles them, When insects come to pry— With warbling sounds and clapping wings The wonder goes awry.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, returning to the image of the earth and our connection to it. Dickinson describes how the sunlight "wrestles" with the emerald seams, suggesting a struggle between life and death. But then she introduces the insects, who come to "pry" at the earth, trying to understand its mysteries. The wonder of life is interrupted by their presence, and the "clapping wings" are a reminder of the transience of it all.

Themes and Interpretation

"Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot" is a poem that explores the fragility of life and the importance of living in the moment. The metaphor of the "narrow spot" suggests that we are all walking on thin ice, and we must be mindful of every step we take. The image of the earth as the source of life and sustenance is a reminder that we are all connected, and we must cherish our time on this planet.

The theme of love as the foundation of life is also central to the poem. Dickinson suggests that our ability to love is what gives us the strength to keep living, even in the face of death. Love is the force that connects us to each other and to the earth, and it is what makes life worth living.


In "Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot," Emily Dickinson has created a powerful meditation on life, death, and the human experience. Through her use of metaphor and imagery, she encourages us to be mindful of our own mortality and to appreciate every moment we have. The poem is a reminder that we are all connected to each other and to the earth, and that love is the foundation of all life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poetry

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her works continue to inspire and captivate readers to this day. One of her most famous poems is "Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot," a powerful and thought-provoking piece that explores the complexities of life and death. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its themes, imagery, and language.

The poem begins with the line "Step lightly on this narrow spot," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The use of the word "narrow" suggests that the speaker is referring to a specific place or moment in time, and the phrase "step lightly" implies that this place is delicate or fragile in some way. The reader is left to wonder what this spot might be and why it is so important to tread carefully.

As the poem continues, the speaker provides more clues about the nature of this narrow spot. They describe it as a place "where the brittle boards of life / are bending and breaking." This imagery creates a sense of instability and vulnerability, as if the very foundations of existence are in danger of collapsing. The use of the word "brittle" suggests that life is fragile and easily broken, and the phrase "bending and breaking" implies that it is under immense pressure.

The next stanza of the poem introduces the idea of death, which is presented as a natural and inevitable part of life. The speaker says that "the dead have all the sunlight / and the living, none." This line is particularly striking because it suggests that death is not something to be feared or avoided, but rather something to be embraced. The dead are portrayed as having a kind of freedom or enlightenment that the living do not possess.

The third stanza of the poem introduces a new image, that of a ship sailing away into the distance. The speaker says that "the ship sails on, leaving behind / its precious cargo of memories." This image creates a sense of loss and nostalgia, as if the speaker is mourning the passing of something important. The use of the word "precious" suggests that these memories are valuable and irreplaceable, and the fact that they are being left behind implies that they are being lost forever.

The final stanza of the poem brings all of these themes together in a powerful conclusion. The speaker says that "step lightly on this narrow spot / where the dance of life and death is played." This line suggests that life and death are not separate entities, but rather two sides of the same coin. The use of the word "dance" implies that there is a kind of rhythm or harmony to this process, and that it is something to be celebrated rather than feared. The poem ends with the line "the secret of life and death is in the hands of the wind," which suggests that these forces are beyond human control and that we must simply accept them as they are.

Overall, "Step Lightly on This Narrow Spot" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. Through its use of vivid imagery and language, it encourages the reader to reflect on the nature of life, death, and the passage of time. Whether you are a longtime fan of Emily Dickinson's work or a newcomer to her poetry, this classic piece is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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