'Funny-to be a Century' by Emily Dickinson

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Funny-to be a Century-
And see the People-going by-
I-should die of the Oddity-
But then-I'm not so staid-as He-He keeps His Secrets safely-very-
Were He to tell-extremely sorry
This Bashful Globe of Ours would be-
So dainty of Publicity-

Editor 1 Interpretation

Funny-to be a Century: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Oh, what a delightful poem "Funny-to be a Century" is! Emily Dickinson truly was a master of capturing the complexity of human emotions in just a few lines. In this 14-line poem, Dickinson takes us on a journey through time and the evolution of human experience. Let us dive deep into this masterpiece and explore its hidden meanings.

Form and Structure

Before we delve into the themes and meanings of the poem, let's take a moment to appreciate its form and structure. "Funny-to be a Century" is a short poem consisting of two stanzas, each with seven lines. The poem follows a simple ABCB rhyme scheme, with the exception of the sixth line of the second stanza, which has a unique rhyme scheme of its own: CDD.

The poem's brevity is one of its strengths. Dickinson manages to convey complex ideas in just a few words, leaving the reader with a lasting impression. The rhyme scheme adds to the poem's musicality, making it a delight to read aloud.

Themes and Meanings

The theme of time is central to "Funny-to be a Century." Dickinson uses the concept of a century to explore the evolution of human experience. The first stanza of the poem sets the scene:

Funny to be a Century-

And see the People- going by-

I- should die of the Oddity-

But then- I'm not so staid- as He-

He keeps His Secrets safely- very-

Here, Dickinson is reflecting on how strange it must be to live for a century and witness the passing of time. The use of the word "funny" conveys a sense of amusement or irony, as if Dickinson is highlighting the absurdity of human existence. She imagines that she would "die of the Oddity" if she were to live for a hundred years, but she acknowledges that she is not as "staid" as someone who might be capable of living for so long. The final line of the stanza, "He keeps His Secrets safely- very-" suggests that there is something mysterious about living for a century, something that is not easily understood by those who have not experienced it.

The second stanza takes a slightly different approach to the theme of time:

Were He to tell His secret- /

But- on the second thought- I'm glad- He didn't tell- for if He put it down- /

Himself- He wouldn't- ache- so much-

That was the Job of Life- to do-

Or He'd unload- perhaps-

Here, Dickinson imagines what it would be like if someone who had lived for a century were to reveal their secrets. At first, she entertains the idea, but then decides that it is better that the secret remains undisclosed. She suggests that if the person were to put their secret into words, they would no longer feel the same sense of ache or longing that they feel as a result of their experiences. The final two lines of the poem, "That was the Job of Life- to do- / Or He'd unload- perhaps-" suggest that it is our experiences in life that shape who we are and that we would be diminished if we were to reveal all of our secrets.


There are many ways to interpret "Funny-to be a Century." Here are a few possible interpretations:

1. The Absurdity of Human Existence

The use of the word "funny" in the first line of the poem suggests that Dickinson is highlighting the absurdity of human existence. We live for a relatively short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, and yet we take ourselves so seriously. The passing of time is inevitable, yet we cling to it as if it were something we can control. Dickinson seems to be suggesting that we should embrace the absurdity of our existence and find joy in the passing of time.

2. The Mystery of Experience

The final line of the first stanza, "He keeps His Secrets safely- very-" suggests that there is something mysterious about living for a century. The person who has lived for so long has experienced things that are not easily understood by those who have not lived as long. The fact that they keep their secrets suggests that there are aspects of their experience that are beyond words. This interpretation suggests that there is something to be learned from those who have lived for a long time, even if we cannot fully understand their experience.

3. The Importance of Experience

The final two lines of the poem, "That was the Job of Life- to do- / Or He'd unload- perhaps-" suggest that our experiences in life are what shape who we are. If we were to reveal all of our secrets, we would be diminished. This interpretation suggests that our experiences, both good and bad, are what give our lives meaning. It is through our experiences that we learn and grow, and it is through our experiences that we become who we are.


"Funy-to be a Century" is a beautiful poem that explores the themes of time, experience, and the mystery of human existence. Dickinson's use of language and form are masterful, and the brevity of the poem adds to its impact. The poem is open to interpretation, and there are many ways to read it. Ultimately, however, the poem suggests that our experiences in life are what shape us and give our lives meaning, and that there is something mysterious about the passing of time that we may never fully understand.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her poem "Funny-to be a Century" is a perfect example of why. This poem is a witty and insightful commentary on the passage of time and the human experience. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this classic poem.

First, let's take a look at the structure of the poem. "Funny-to be a Century" is a short poem, consisting of only four stanzas. Each stanza is composed of two lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABAB. This simple structure allows Dickinson to pack a lot of meaning into a small space. The brevity of the poem also adds to its impact, as each line carries a lot of weight.

The poem begins with the line "Funny to be a Century," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The word "funny" is used here in a somewhat ironic sense, as the subject matter of the poem is not necessarily humorous. However, the word also implies a sense of lightheartedness and playfulness, which is a hallmark of Dickinson's style.

The second line of the first stanza reads, "And see the People - going by -." This line introduces the theme of time and the passage of generations. The speaker is reflecting on the fact that they have lived for a century and have seen many people come and go. The use of the word "People" with a capital "P" suggests that the speaker is referring to humanity as a whole, rather than just individuals.

The second stanza continues this theme, with the lines "I - should like to own a Manse - / Out of Nature -." Here, the speaker expresses a desire to own a house in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. This desire is likely rooted in the speaker's sense of weariness after living for a century and seeing so much change. The phrase "Out of Nature" suggests a desire for simplicity and a return to a more natural way of life.

The third stanza takes a more philosophical turn, with the lines "And a new - fashioned Gentleman - / In the Garden -." Here, the speaker is expressing a desire for a new kind of person, one who is in tune with nature and the simple pleasures of life. The use of the word "new-fashioned" suggests that the speaker is looking for someone who is not bound by the conventions of society and is willing to embrace a more unconventional way of life.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, with the lines "A Bulb - if it be Summer-time - / But when Winter - falls -". Here, the speaker is using the metaphor of a bulb to represent the cycle of life and death. In the summer, the bulb is alive and growing, but in the winter it withers and dies. This cycle is a reminder that everything in life is temporary and that we must appreciate the moments we have while we have them.

Now that we have explored the structure and themes of the poem, let's take a closer look at the language Dickinson uses. One of the most striking things about "Funny-to be a Century" is the way Dickinson plays with language and syntax. For example, in the first stanza, she uses the phrase "going by" instead of "passing by." This subtle change adds a sense of movement and momentum to the line, as if the people are rushing past the speaker.

Dickinson also uses repetition and alliteration to great effect in this poem. In the second stanza, she repeats the "o" sound in the words "own" and "out," creating a sense of harmony and balance. In the third stanza, she uses alliteration in the phrase "new-fashioned Gentleman," which adds a sense of playfulness and whimsy to the poem.

Finally, it is worth noting the way Dickinson uses punctuation in this poem. She often uses dashes instead of commas or periods, which gives the poem a sense of breathlessness and urgency. The dashes also create a sense of fragmentation, as if the speaker is struggling to put their thoughts into words.

In conclusion, "Funny-to be a Century" is a masterful poem that explores the themes of time, change, and the human experience. Through its simple structure, playful language, and insightful observations, this poem reminds us of the fleeting nature of life and the importance of cherishing the moments we have. Emily Dickinson's legacy as one of the greatest poets of all time is well-deserved, and this poem is a shining example of her talent and skill.

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