Success is Counted Sweetest by Emily Dickinson

Introduction to the poem
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest poets. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, the daughter of a wealthy lawyer. She lived in seclusion, yet the depth of her emotions compelled her to express them in a metrical composition. Her one-of-a-kind lyrics are distillations of great emotion and original intellect that stray from the canon of nineteenth-century American literature. Emily Dickinson wrote around 1800 poems, but only a small number were published during her lifetime. She disregards conventional standards of versification and even language, and her intellectual content is extremely strong and creative. Her verse is notable for its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and absence of high polish.

Emily Dickinson was a sensitive person. She was profoundly affected by the horrors of the American Civil War and its aftermath, including the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination and the Reconstruction process.

Although it is a prevalent myth that Emily Dickinson lived alone, her poetry demonstrates that she was not oblivious to the world around her. She was completely absorbed in the world’s phenomena. No collection of her poetry was published during her lifetime. Her sister discovered and released her diaries following her death. She is now regarded as one of the nineteenth century’s two greatest poets.

The poem ‘Success is Counted Sweetest’ depicts the pitiful state of those warriors who waged a battle in the hope of achieving achievement in the form of victory over their adversary but are now injured and on the verge of death. A gathering of victorious troops is nearby, celebrating their win, but this crowd is not their company. Victorious individuals are intoxicated with success. Trumpets are sounded by their adversaries as a show of victory, but for these soldiers, these trumpets represent defeat, cutting the dying soldiers’ hearts. The poem conveys an upbeat and heroic tone. The tone conveys a sense of illumination.

Summary of the poem

The poem is essentially about a desire for achievement in any form. It is a thought-provoking poem on the timeless truth of a successful person who must overcome numerous obstacles in order to achieve success. It is concerned with the fundamental human concerns of love, pain, fame, death, and immortality, as well as severe and terrible inner conflict. She asserts that one may appreciate the worth of nectar only after experiencing “sorest need.” She illustrates this point by describing a person who carries a flag in his hand but is not always victorious. The true victory is easily comprehended by those who battled for the dignity of that flag and were beaten. She believes that winning a war requires the sacrifice of those who have given their lives. He, probably more than anybody else, would have understood the value of victory. Her poetry is distinguished by its straightforward diction, conversational rhythms, and unique imagery. The poem’s meaning is “no pain, no gain.”

Themes of the poem

The poem addresses the following major themes:

Failure, a kind of success
The poem’s very first line establishes its theme. The poetess describes a perplexing aspect of human life in which those who achieve something are unable to fully enjoy it. The word success is important for those who “never succeed”.

Next is the description of need philosophy. “Sorest need” is required to “comprehend a nector”. We care about something or someone only when there is an immediate need. Indeed, as thirst teaches us about water, failure teaches us about success.

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Indifference of man
In this poem, the poet employs parallelism to achieve a stronger effect. On one side are half-dead soldiers who are incapable of bearing the pain caused by war wounds. On the other hand, there are the triumph trumpets, which only add to the agony of the dying half-conscious troops. Thus, the callousness of human nature is shown in the victory troops’ behaviour.

Numerous poets have addressed the issue of man’s isolation on this planet earth. The isolation of dying warriors amidst a sea of adversaries demonstrates that a crowd is not company.

Stylistic Analysis of the poem

This is a twelve-line lyrical poem. The poetess is an exceptionally gifted person. She attempted to convey a complex world phenomenon in the fewest feasible words. Indeed, this lyric is evocative of our daily life.

The poem might be interpreted as a parable about human existence. In this war for human existence, some of us remain victorious in terms of health, riches, and honour. Some of us are unsuccessful in achieving our objectives. Only death can save us in the hope of achieving our objectives. Our unsatisfied aspirations retain their allure.


The poetess has used symbolism deftly throughout the poem, lending it a unique appeal and delight. The nectar is a representation of victory and triumph. Wars were widespread in her day, and they found an outlet in this poetry. The term “purple” refers to blood stains and “host” refers to a king who has won a fight. The monarch appears to be accustomed to fighting conflicts with his adversaries, and during this process, the uniform he is wearing has accumulated several stains that have faded to purple over time. For him, success has become a trivial win.

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Trumpets are a symbol of victory for succeeding warriors, yet they are a symbol of defeat for dying soldiers.
Another victory symbol included in this poem is the flag.


The poem contains a sense of tranquillity and unspoken calmness. The poetess’ tone hints to her sensibilities. Her demeanour appears to be sympathetic. The unsatisfied drive for success has been elevated. She has provided us with a fresh mirror through which to view the things and phenomena around us. The poetess has created a photographic picture of a battlefield using just words.


“Success is counted sweetest” is a poem that illustrates how sweet success is, but how more delightful the desire for success is. The words have been carefully chosen to paint a picture for the readers of a battlefield, where on one side are the winners, whose victory will lose its lustre after a while. On the other hand, there are the losers, the dying troops who will taste the reward of achievement because this specific word still holds a certain allure for them. They will always adore it. This poem is reminiscent of Keats’ Ode On A Grecian Urn, where Heard melodies are delightful. Those who remain unheard are more delightful.

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