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Emily Dickinson's "The Only News I know"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "The Only News I know"

While Emily Dickinson's poem, "The Only News I know," offers an obvious exaggeration, it, nevertheless, dramatizes the most important topics with which the poet's speaker likes to engage: immortality, eternity, and God. Each Dickinsonian speaker enjoys occupying her thinking and musing with ethereal places and events.

The physical world is such a cold and often lonely place for sensitive souls, and once those souls acquire some inkling of a different world, a spiritual level of existence, or an astral world, they prefer it.

Those sensitive souls inquire, read, and study about the possibility of a place where the soul lives on after it leaves the gross physical encasement—a place where it lives more abundantly and completely without the trammels and trappings of earthy, material existence.

Emily Dickinson's "The Only News I know" consists of four tercets, or three-line stanzas, each one examining the glorious possibility of living in a better world of constant beauty, constant blissful feeling, and ever-new joy.

Each tercet adheres to its own rime scheme: ABC, ABA, AAB, ABC. Each line displays seven syllables, except for the final line in the final tercet, which yields up only four syllables.

The four-syllable line gives the poem an abruptness that further enhances the meaning of the content: the speaker makes her claims in crispness and ends in a snap.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Only News I know

The Only News I know
Is Bulletins all Day
From Immortality.

The Only Shows I see—
Tomorrow and Today—
Perchance Eternity—

The Only One I meet
Is God—The Only Street—
Existence—This traversed

If Other News there be—
Or Admirabler Show—
I'll tell it You—

Reading of "The Only News I know"

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Commentary

Through her speaker, this Dickinson poem offers a glimpse of the poet's satisfying daily existence. She opted famously to live a rather secluded life, in which she could explore inner realities, as they relate to the larger world. But she virtually always remained focused on the life of the mind and soul.

First Tercet: Focus on the Spiritual

The Only News I know
Is Bulletins all Day
From Immortality.

In the first stanza, the speaker asserts that the only information she recognizes is that which comes from "Immortality." She claims she receives "Bulletins all Day / From Immortality." This speaker is more interested in mystical, that is, spiritual awareness than she is in mundane earthly things.

Second Tercet: A Permanent Frame of Mind

The Only Shows I see—
Tomorrow and Today—
Perchance Eternity—

The speaker then avers that the only programs or performances she watches are those that pertain similarly to "Immortality," and she suggests that perhaps this time frame is permanent. She leaves open some doubt, probably, for the sake of skeptical listeners, for she is certain of both her "Immortality" and "Eternity."

Third Tercet: God Alone

The Only One I meet
Is God—The Only Street—
Existence—This traversed

The speaker then reveals her startling claim, as she is wont to do: "The Only One I meet / Is God." And instead of further drama or explication on meeting God, she rushes on mid-line to claim that the only path she travels is that of "Existence." This "street" she "traverse[s]" freely.

Fourth Tercet: No Other News

If Other News there be—
Or Admirabler Show—
I'll tell it You—

Then the speaker declares that if, in fact, she ever acquires any other significant information, she will let her listeners know about it. But her matter-of-fact declamations have made it quite clear that she does not expect such "Other News" to assail her consciousness.

Emily Dickinson at age 17

Emily Dickinson at age 17

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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