A Nibbling Tooth

Submitted by Lucy Anne on Thu, 01/28/2016 - 20:05

Awhile back, I analyzed Emily Dickinson's poem, This World is Not Conclusion. Read the poem, and if you want, give me some of your thoughts! There is alot in the poem to think about that it was fun to write this.


Ask a child how it feels to have a loose tooth. Protruding from the gum, it pricks and tickles the tongue. Moving back and forth with a squishy sound, a loose tooth is simply unpleasant. In the poem “This World is Not Conclusion,” Emily Dickinson contrasts an unsettling question to be as troubling as that dangling tooth. Her poem speaks to all who have asked, “What lies beyond life on earth?” Using imagery, personification, and metaphors, Dickinson claims that no one will ever understand what lies in death.

Dickinson chooses a few different images to convey the difficulty of understanding the afterlife. For the first image, she uses music, which she says is “invisible...but positive, as sound” (line 3-4). Most have not seen heaven or hell while living on earth--it is invisible, and so is music. We can only hear the twang of the violin string, but not the vibrations in the air it erupts. However, it is real, and in the same way, Dickinson implies that she believes that the Bible is to heaven as sound is to music. But, since most will not see heaven or hell until “at the last” (line 7), Dickinson says that the question “beckons and it baffles” (line 5) all. “Philosophy, don’t know” (line 6). To her, the world beyond is a mystery unknown to scholars, whose “sagacity must go” (line 8). In saying this, she declares that even wisdom cannot grasp what is in the life to come.

Instead, she says the only way to partly understand heaven or hell (or none at all, depending on one’s worldview) is to have faith. Dickinson personifies her own faith, indirectly contrasting it to a little girl in order to show how feeble her faith can be. She says, “Faith slips—and laughs, and rallies/Blushes, if any see/Plucks at a twig of Evidence/And asks a Vane, the way” (13-16). These stanzas paint a picture of a carefree, nonchalant little girl. Here faith laughs, blushes, and slips. Dickinson suggests that faith at times laughs at her. Also, she feels as if faith is so difficult to grasp as it blushes if any see. Or, perhaps like all of us, she remembers times when she is tempted to hide her faith when people do not share the same beliefs. Also, she sometimes neglects faith, just as a girl slips. Finally, like a nonchalant girl, she yearns for proof of the life beyond (“plucks at a twig of Evidence”) and “has to ask a Vane the way” because she is lost.

Unfortunately, this poem does not show that the Vane has indeed directed Dickinson to a solution. Dickinson never finds the answer to her question and she uses a metaphor of a nibbling Tooth to conclude that nothing can calm the constant question of what lies beyond. She says: “Much Gesture, from the Pulpit-/Strong Hallelujahs roll/Narcotics cannot still the Tooth/That nibbles at the soul” (line 16-20). In these lines, she refers to religion as narcotics, a pain killer. Understanding the purpose of this drug provides a deeper understanding to Dickinson’s message. The online medical dictionary informs that narcotics are also given pre-operatively to relieve anxiety and induce anesthesia (“Narcotics”). Through this poem, Dickinson creates feelings of anxiety and restlessness over the unsettling, frightening question of one’s eternal destiny. Nothing, not even narcotics -- which is so powerful that large doses can cause deaths, cannot relieve that loose tooth.

So what is the conclusion? There must be some hope. Dickinson began the poem with “This world is not conclusion” (line 1), but did not answer directly in the poem. Instead, she created a sense of mystery and confusion. However, her last two lines hint the solution: a tooth never stops irritating a person until it pops out. Indeed, she capitalizes the word ‘Tooth,’ which represents the nagging question of life beyond. To her, we will never know. In the middle of the poem, Dickinson states, “through the Riddle/at the last” (line 7). In her opinion, we will only know when the Tooth pops out; when our time on earth finishes.

Works Cited
Dickinson, Emily. “This World is Not Conclusion.” Poetry Foundation. N.p, n.d.
Web. 20 November 2015.
“Narcotics”. The Free Dictionary by Farlex. N.p, n.d. Web. 20 November 2015.

Author's age when written

...if you made it through this essay, yay! :)