CT Journal: Write a process paper in which you
walk your reader through your thought process as you read a
The Lightning is a yellow Fork
From Tables in the sky
When I read these first two lines of 'The Lightning is Yellow Fork',
I pictured a stormy night and a big table amidst the rain clouds, off
the edge of which a fork is slipping off and piercing the ground
below. A fork is long and pointy at one end, much like lightning, so
this analogy made sense. Another thing I noticed that the words
'Lightning', 'Table', and 'Fork' were capitalized. I was not sure why
this was, but I thought maybe it was because these were the main
words that were being used to form the analogy. I still wasn't clear
on it, so I continued on to the next part, to see if I could find
anything to clarify what I didn't know.
By inadvertent fingers dropt
I read this line next. At first, I was confused by it, because I
didn't know what 'inadvertent' meant. Once I looked it up, I found
out that it meant "unobservant" or "without thinking" and suddenly
the sentence made sense to me and I could add to my mental picture.
There were now distracted fingers dropping the fork from the table in
the sky. But this led me to wonder who the fingers belonged to.
The awful Cutlery
Of mansions never quite disclosed
And never quite concealed
The first thing I noticed about these next three lines was the fact
that another word was capitalized "Cutlery". Just like the
capitalized words in the first two lines, this use of capitalization
also pertained to an analogy, since it was still talking about a fork
being similar to lightning. The word 'awful' was used to describe
this so-called "cutlery" so I got the impression that Dickinson meant
to portray lightning as harmful and scary.
The second of these three lines confused me. I thought of what I knew
about the words 'mansion' and 'disclosed.' I know that mansions are
large houses or estates. To disclose something means to reveal or
unfold. Did this imply that the mansion belonged to the being who was
doing the dropping of the fork? Does the fact that this mansion was
"never quite disclosed" mean that people down on Earth didn't really
know what was up there, or that they hadn't ever seen it?
Next, when I read the third line, I noted that the word 'concealed'
was written. I know that to conceal means to hide, and that it is
somewhat of an antonym to the word 'disclose.' I had an idea that by
adding in this line, Dickinson was trying to say that although no one
was ever really quite clear on this "mansion" (what it was or why it
was), they still knew that it was there.
The Apparatus of the Dark
To ignorance revealed
The return of the capitalized words! The way "Apparatus of the Dark"
was phrased made me initially think that what was being described was
actually something called an Apparatus of the Dark. This got me
confused again. I did not know what was meant by "Apparatus of the
Dark," so I thought about what I knew about these words. An apparatus
can be a gadget or tool -- like a fork. The word 'dark' is often used
to describe something negatively. Again, I suddenly get the
impression that Dickinson is trying to imply something negative, and
I made a connection to when she used the word 'awful' in the
The last line had the word 'ignorance' in it, which I noticed had a
connection to the word 'inadvertent'. Was it the owner of the fingers
whose ignorance was being revealed? I looked at this from a different
point of view. It seemed to me that although it was sort of a
stretch, Dickinson was trying to say if you do something ignorantly,
people will know about it and may even be hurt by it.
The last thing I noticed about this poem was that the second and
fourth lines of the second stanza rhymed. ("Concealed" and
"revealed".) However, I could not think of any symbolic reason that
Dickinson would put this in.
After reading this poem and thinking about it a lot, what didn't make
sense to me in the beginning became clearer in my mind. A question I
still wasn't able to answer, though, had to do with the third line.
Whose fingers were they? The poem never says. The symbolism in the
lightning bolt also remains unclear to me. It has a kind of
indistinct meaning in the poem that I wasn't able to reach.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind
After reading the poem through, and then writing/typing it out, I
start exploring the poem by examining the first line more carefully.
"Tell all the Truth" Emily Dickinson is commanding us ' here to tell
the truth, so she is placing importance on truth. It strikes me that
she writes, "all the Truth". She is placing importance on complete
truth, versus half the truth, or even most of the truth. And then
there is the fact that it is not truth, but Truth. I know that in
some other European languages, such as German, all nouns are
capitalized. In old English too, nouns were capitalized. Even
throughout the 19th century, some writers in English persisted in
writing with capital nouns. However looking through the poem, I see
that Emily Dickinson does not capitalize all her nouns. Therefore, I
infer that this capitalization of a word means something. When
reading it out loud and coming across the capital truth, I feel like
I need to place emphasis of it, so perhaps this is what it is
supposed to do. By thinking about it in this manner, I begin to
wonder whether the author is talking about truth in general, or a
specific truth, i.e. the truth of life? However there is no evidence
of this here, so I move on.
"But tell it slant-" Here Emily Dickinson is complicating her earlier
statement. No longer are we supposed to just tell the truth, but
instead, "tell it slant." What is telling it slant? It is not,
omitting part of the truth, for she tells us to tell "all the Truth.
" A slant is not straight, so perhaps, that while the straight truth
is the plain truth, and only the truth handed over alone and
distinct, the slant truth is given bit by bit along with other
useless, or perhaps even false information.
"Success in Circuit lies" Here we are told where success lies. Here
two questions come to mind, "Where does success lie?" and "Success of
what?". Success lies in Circuit. What is a Circuit? A circuit is
something that goes round. In a circuit one ends up where one
started, after going around. So success lies in going around in this
circular pattern. Success of what? The only thing we have heard about
in this poem so far is telling the truth. Then this line may mean
that successfully telling the truth, means telling it in circles.
But, how does one tell the truth in circles? Could it mean that to
tell the entire truth, one doesn't say it all at once but rather
exposes little bits of it which circle around to end up at the
complete truth, which is actually the purpose or starting place of
"Too bright for our infirm Delight" The first question that comes to
mind when reading this line, is what is too bright? There is a choice
of two things - success or absolute truth. If Success is what I
earlier concluded: telling the complete truth, can it be too bright?
It seems to me that the answer this is no, since we want to
accomplish informing something of the compete truth, therefore how
can we be too successful in telling the complete truth. However if I
try assuming that truth is meant, the phrase begins to make more
sense. If absolute truth is too bright we cannot present it all at
the same time, but rather we have to present it bit by bit, which is
exactly what Emily Dickinson said in line 1. Next we discover for
what truth is too bright; "our infirm Delight." Our delight is things
we enjoy, therefore our infirm delight, implies that the things we
enjoy change. I would agree that I and most people are like this. So
putting the pieces together, this phrase seems to mean that the truth
is too difficult for us to grasp, we who are people whose desires
change. This gives me the impression, that the truth Emily Dickinson
is talking about, is something unchangeable, some greater truth, that
will never change.
"The Truth's superb surprise" Here Emily Dickinson presents more
information as to what the Truth is: It is something that will
surprise us. Yet it is a superb surprise meaning it isn't anything
bad, but rather something pleasing. Looking at the lines I have got
to now, it strikes me that this poem is arranged in two line phrases.
First "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/ Success in Circuit
lies", and second, "Too bright for our infirm Delight, The Truth's
superb surprise." Reading the poem in this manner clears things up
for me. I still see the same ideas, but they are clearer now.
"As Lightning to the children eased With explanation kind" Taking the
next two lines, I see that they start with "as", meaning we are being
presented with a simile. I wonder which of the earlier ideas is being
compared to lightning, but since I see no direct indication, I take
it to mean the entire earlier phrases. "Lighting to the children" In
Hawaii, we don't have the kind of lighting drier climates experience,
yet most young children are scared of lighting. Yet adults are not
scared of lighting, and I think this is what Emily Dickinson means
when she says "eased With explanation kind" Once one realizes what
lightning is(a natural phenomena vs. the act of the gods) one stops
being scared of the bright flashes. Comparing the two ideas; we must
learn the truth, but not all at once in order to learn truth's superb
surprise, as children must be taught about lighting, which will then
calm their fears. Yet reading the poem, I see something else here.
Lightning is so closely related to too bright, that I feel there must
be some significance between the two; I can't quite grasp what it is,
"The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind -" These are
the last two lines of the poem, and reading the poem, gives them a
sense of being of some consequence, that they must bring around a
summary of what the author is trying to say. From what I can see,
they do in fact bring about a summary. "The Truth must dazzle
gradually," again informs us of the slow and gradual pattern, which
should tell the truth, and tells us again how marvelous this truth
is. "Or every man be blind" This line seems to tell me just how
strong the truth is. Given it at once we would be blinded by it. This
holds in line with how Emily Dickinson has been using light
throughout the poem, people can in fact be blinded by light, if they
are unable to close their eyes. I am left wondering what is the
Truth. It must be something that I cannot just be told; instead I
will have to slowly uncover it.
The poem's sound is very even and smooth, and the syllables in the
lines go 8, 6, 8, 6, 8, 6, 8, 6 The final word in line 2 rhymes with
the final word in line 4 and the final word in line 6 rhymes with the
final word in line 8. There is no punctuation in the poem except two
dashes with is interesting. I am unable to see any significance of
the placement of the dashes, only that one is at the end of the first
line and the other is at the end of the last. In all I feel like I
have a pretty good grasp of the poem, though I can tell there is more