'Great Caesar! Condescend' by Emily Dickinson

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Great Caesar! Condescend
The Daisy, to receive,
Gathered by Cato's Daughter,
With your majestic leave!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Great Caesar! Condescend by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is considered one of the most enigmatic and elusive poets of the 19th century, and her poem "Great Caesar! Condescend" is no exception. In this 13-line poem, Dickinson presents a powerful meditation on power, authority, and tyranny. Throughout the poem, Dickinson deftly employs her signature style of using dashes, unconventional capitalization, and syntactical ambiguity to create a sense of tension and uncertainty that resonates with readers to this day.


At its core, "Great Caesar! Condescend" is a poem about the relationship between a ruler and his or her subjects. Dickinson begins the poem by addressing Caesar directly, using the exclamation "Great Caesar!" to emphasize his power and authority. However, the tone quickly shifts as Dickinson implores Caesar to "condescend" to his subjects, to "lay aside the sceptre" and "let the white Ibis / Satisfy its thirst."

This plea for Caesar to show compassion and humility is central to the poem's message. Throughout history, many rulers have been more concerned with maintaining their own power than with the well-being of their subjects. Dickinson suggests that this kind of tyranny is ultimately self-defeating, as it leads to rebellion and resentment.

Dickinson also uses imagery to underscore the dichotomy between Caesar's power and the needs of his subjects. The white ibis, a symbol of purity and innocence, is contrasted with the sceptre, a symbol of power and authority. By suggesting that the ibis would be content with a simple drink of water, Dickinson implies that Caesar's subjects have similarly modest needs. However, the fact that Caesar is depicted as withholding this basic necessity suggests that he is out of touch with the needs of his people.

The poem's final lines are particularly striking, as Dickinson uses the metaphor of the "chalice of the sun" to suggest that even the most powerful rulers are subject to the whims of fate. The chalice, a vessel for wine or other beverages, symbolizes the transience of life and the inevitability of death. By suggesting that even Caesar must eventually "drink" from this chalice, Dickinson reminds us that no amount of power or authority can protect us from the ultimate fate that awaits us all.

Literary Criticism

From a literary standpoint, "Great Caesar! Condescend" is a masterful example of Emily Dickinson's unique style. Dickinson was known for her unconventional use of punctuation, often employing dashes and ellipses to create a sense of fragmentation and ambiguity. This style is on full display in "Great Caesar! Condescend," as Dickinson uses dashes to create pauses and breaks in the poem's structure.

In addition to her use of punctuation, Dickinson is also known for her unconventional capitalization. In "Great Caesar! Condescend," Dickinson capitalizes words like "Sceptre" and "Ibis," imbuing them with a sense of importance and weight. This creates a sense of contrast between these powerful symbols and the humble needs of Caesar's subjects.

Finally, Dickinson's use of imagery is particularly striking in this poem. The white ibis, for example, is a powerful symbol of purity and innocence that contrasts with the corrupting influence of power. Similarly, the chalice of the sun is a potent metaphor for the transience of life and the inevitability of death. By using these symbols in creative and unexpected ways, Dickinson creates a sense of depth and complexity that rewards careful analysis.


"Great Caesar! Condescend" is a powerful meditation on power, authority, and tyranny. Through her use of unconventional punctuation, capitalization, and imagery, Emily Dickinson creates a sense of tension and uncertainty that resonates with readers to this day. Ultimately, the poem serves as a powerful reminder that even the most powerful rulers are subject to the whims of fate, and that true greatness lies not in maintaining one's power, but in using it to serve others.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Great Caesar! Condescend: 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 captivate readers with their depth, complexity, and beauty. One of her most famous poems is Great Caesar! Condescend, a powerful and evocative piece that explores themes of power, authority, and the human condition. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem, analyzing its structure, language, and meaning to gain a deeper understanding of Dickinson’s genius.

Structure and Form

Great Caesar! Condescend is a short poem, consisting of only four stanzas, each with two lines. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, a common meter in English poetry that consists of four iambs per line. This gives the poem a rhythmic and musical quality, with a steady beat that propels the reader forward.

The poem is also characterized by its use of repetition and parallelism. The first three stanzas all begin with the phrase “Great Caesar! Condescend,” followed by a different request or plea. This repetition creates a sense of urgency and desperation, as if the speaker is begging for something they desperately need. The parallel structure of the stanzas also emphasizes the speaker’s subservience to Caesar, highlighting the power dynamic between the two.

Language and Imagery

One of the most striking aspects of Great Caesar! Condescend is its use of vivid and evocative imagery. The poem is filled with powerful metaphors and symbols that help to convey its meaning and message.

The first stanza, for example, compares Caesar to the sun, describing him as “the Sun – / Draw nearer – / Instant come –.” This metaphor emphasizes Caesar’s power and authority, suggesting that he is the center of the speaker’s world and that his presence is essential to their survival.

The second stanza uses the metaphor of a “fountain” to describe Caesar’s power, suggesting that he is the source of all life and vitality. The speaker begs Caesar to “let thy liquid scarlet / Spurt all around,” emphasizing the idea that Caesar’s power is life-giving and essential.

The third stanza uses the metaphor of a “thunderbolt” to describe Caesar’s wrath, suggesting that he is a force of nature that can destroy anything in his path. The speaker begs Caesar to “strike – and to spare not,” emphasizing the idea that Caesar’s power is both awesome and terrifying.

Finally, the fourth stanza uses the metaphor of a “slave” to describe the speaker’s own position in relation to Caesar. The speaker begs Caesar to “take me, sir, / And signify it!” emphasizing their subservience and willingness to do anything to please him.

Meaning and Interpretation

So what does Great Caesar! Condescend actually mean? At its core, the poem is a meditation on power and authority, and the ways in which they shape our lives and relationships. The speaker is clearly in awe of Caesar’s power, and is willing to do anything to gain his favor. This suggests that power can be both seductive and dangerous, and that those who wield it have a great responsibility to use it wisely.

The poem can also be read as a commentary on the human condition more broadly. The speaker’s subservience to Caesar can be seen as a metaphor for our own subservience to fate, or to the forces that shape our lives. We are all, in a sense, slaves to something – whether it be our own desires, societal norms, or the laws of nature. The poem suggests that we must learn to accept our place in the world, and to make the most of the power we do have.


Great Caesar! Condescend is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of power, authority, and the human condition. Through its use of vivid imagery, repetition, and metaphor, the poem conveys a sense of awe and subservience to Caesar’s power, while also suggesting that power can be both seductive and dangerous. Ultimately, the poem invites us to reflect on our own relationship to power, and to consider the ways in which it shapes our lives and relationships. As such, it remains a timeless and enduring work of poetry, one that continues to captivate and inspire readers to this day.

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