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25 November 2011

To fight aloud is very brave

To fight aloud, is very brave—
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe—

Who win, and nations do not see—
Who fall—and none observe—
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love—

We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go—
Rank after Rank, with even feet—
And Uniforms of Snow.
                                               - F138 (1860) 126 

Dickinson starts off with a singsong line of iambic pentameter, and then a grammatically rocky transition takes us to the subject of the poem – the heroism of unobserved internal battles. Dickinson never describes what the internal battles are or how they are felt, but rather she sets up a contrast to what they are not.
            They are not like the charge of a Cavalry across the battlefield – which in all its visible and noisy clamor would be to “fight aloud.” Instead, these uncelebrated warriors fight the onslought of “Woe” – a whole cavalry of it. The second stanza then sets up the negative descriptors: that is, we see what the “aloud” warriors receive: if soldiers win, nations see; if soldiers fall, many observe; if they die, their country loves them in patriotism and gratitude. None of this, of course, holds for the fight against despair (which is considered in Christianity to be a major sin – if not the major sin, the unforgivable one). That is a lonely battle – but “gallenter.”
            While the first stanza is written in first person, “gallenter I know,” describing the internal battles of those who battle woe, in the third and last stanza the poet shifts to the inclusive “We.” This is a tacit admission that the poet and everyone else fights this battle. It is also an assumption that her “we” believes – and trusts – in angels. In her mid-1850s Amherst, most all citizens probably did, at least respectable ones.
Gustave Dore, from Dante's
Divine Comedy
            “We trust,” she says, in the “procession” of angels with their plumy wings, their calm progress with “even feet” – no stumbling or prancing, and their brilliant white garments as pure as “Snow.” Dickinson uses the word “Uniforms” as a way of unifying the martial imagery she employed in the previous stanzas.  The contrast between the “aloud” soldiers that the nation depends on and the angels is dramatic – and very skillfully drawn. The soldiers “charge” while the angels have “even feet.” The soldiers have war-like uniforms and weapons while the angels’ uniforms are the white of purity and 


  1. Im writing about this poem in class and this was extremly helpful. Thank you!

  2. What do you mean when you say despair is a sin?

    1. You'd have to look up Christian theology to get a complete answer. I think it has to do with the loss of hope: despair signifies a deep lack of faith in God / Jesus / Holy Ghost.

    2. thanks so much! also what would you say is the tone of the poem?

    3. You first - how would you describe the tone?

    4. I would say it's recongnition, your turn:)

    5. Re-check the notion of 'tone' in poetry (or other creative writing). It's like tone of voice. Mine is sardonic. Yours seems hopeful.