Little White Lying With Emily Dickinson

Little White Lying With Emily Dickinson

Children are often known as being “brutally honest.” They’ll say stuff like, “your hair is really frizzy” or stuff about their own life in the strangest times such as saying “my parents are getting a divorce” while they are playing with legos. To them, the world is very black and white. There is no grey area at all. It is either the full truth, not taking into account how that truth will affect the recipient or a very obvious lie for the purpose of not getting in trouble. As we get older, we have a similar black and white view of honesty, but we learn to take into account places where it is appropriate to be fully honest and places where it makes more sense to “lie.”

Emily Dickinson discusses this concept of truth and honesty in some of her poems. She enters this grey area of honesty that we all live in but tend never to address. We do not like to think we are not being fully honest, as not being honest is not moral, but is being brutally honest moral? She starts off one of her poems: 

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —”

This “slant” acknowledges the gray area surrounding honesty. She is saying that you shouldn’t lie, but instead, word the truth in a way that will lessen the blow. In that same stanza, she explains this concept as our honesty is 

“Too bright for our infirm Delight/ The Truth’s superb surprise”

Our truths are intense, and sometimes we cannot emotionally handle the full truth as it lays, we need to soften it to make it more digestible to us. If we just keep getting blunt truth after truth the emotional tolls on our bodies and minds would be too grand to handle. We would become run down and unable to move forward in our lives. We would live in fear of the truth. However, the truth is something we should not be afraid of. We need to learn from the truth and appreciate the truth. We need to grow strong enough to receive the full truth, but we can’t do that if we don’t build up to it.

She begins the second stanza with this exact notion: 

“As Lightning to the Children eased”

Children are first scared of thunderstorms with lightning because they are very intense and real. As children get older, they become used to thunder and lightning and it is no longer nearly as scary. Dickinson finishes her poem with the following three lines: 

“With explanation kind/ The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind —”

Honesty is a tool that we use to communicate and grow one another. We have to take honesty in little bits and pieces, softened with carefully chosen words and truths that you are only meant to hear. The truth can be traumatic when not told in the right setting, and it needs to be remembered that Dickinson is not saying one should hide anything because we would never move forward, but how to tell the truth is a skill everyone needs to work on. So is little white lying so bad?

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