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16 July 2011

We lose – because we win –

We lose – because we win –
Gamblers – recollecting which –
Toss their dice again!
                                                              - F 28 (1858)

A bit o' luck with the cards or dice encourage gamblers to keep betting and thus losing. But because Dickinson begins with a generic case, the "we", "Gamblers" becomes more than slouches hunched over a green-felt table, but ourselves remembering some past success--be it love or a business venture, or a particular lane during rush hour. And we keep revisiting and trying to replay what it was that resulted in the payoff. But the odds are pretty heavy that we can't. The odds start anew with each throw.
     Actually, it's a bit of a 'glass-half-empty' view. We ultimately lose rather than win. Just as in casinos, the odds are stacked against us.


  1. This is an intriguing little philosophical poem, especially with the arresting paradox of the opening line.

    I am drawn to the way that Dickinson subtly evokes the addictive side of betting (which could be interpreted as actual monetary, or metaphorical, gambling). The compulsive aspect of gambling is evoked by the fact that the gambler knows from his own experience that whatever he wins, he will ultimately lose, yet he or she carries on betting regardless, caught in an endless cycle of winning and losing. This inability to stop oneself from gambling is enhanced stylistically by the enjambment of line 2 (shown in my version of the poem), which allows the sense of the line to continue into the next, unhindered.

    The seemingly simple choice of words is wonderful in the poem, with the verb 'Toss' inescapably suggesting the noun 'loss' and the word 'again' consisting of the syllables 'a-' and '-gain', suggesting a win. The close proximity of these words in the same metrical line conveys the inextricable link between loss and gain. And both words are placed on the either side of the gambler's dice, as if to evoke the two outcomes that could befall the gambler; yet ultimately both outcomes are not mutually exclusive for anything gained will, according to the speaker, always result in a subsequent loss. Indeed, the use of a slant, rather than full, rhyme (as shown through the words 'win' and 'again') reminds us of the fragility of any gain.

    Furthermore, the description of the dice as being possessed by the gambler ('their dice') makes it seem as though gambling has taken over and become an inseparable part of him or her.

    Overall, the poem is a great example of Dickinson's aphoristic style, condensing considerable meaning into the space of three lines of verse.

  2. Interesting insight on the 'toss' and 'again' - thank you!

  3. I wonder what inspired Emily Dickinson to write a poem on gambling. She led a sheltered quiet life. Would her dad or brother Austin (or Suzie) have been playing games with dice? Or is she taking the idea of gambling and playing with it in a broader sense?

  4. Please! Greatly appreciated if native speakers could help me:
    The meaning of these lines are ambiguous for me:
    Ganblers - recollecting which –
    Toss their dice again!
    At first I read it as ~gamblers are recollecting wich of them toss their dice again.
    But why did she break the actually 6-6-6 syllables into 6-7-5, could it be theat the word 'which' really belongs to the second line meaning something like: gamblers wich (who)are remembering toss their dice again?


  5. Superficially this is a trite sermon on gambling. SK generalizes to recalled successes, e.g., in love, business, or driving. Could ED be thinking about birth and death?

    We die - because we’re born
    Some of us - recollecting life - [consciously or not]
    Create children! [intentionally or not]

    1. Interesting -- but I just can't see the metaphor of tossing the dice for having children (well, I can see it, boy how, but not in the context of this ED poem). Thanks for the post!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This poem, F28, seems the obverse side of F39, “I never lost as much but twice”. ED lost many close friends to death, and winning new friends takes time and concentrated effort. Nevertheless, ED feels the investment is preferable to retreating into isolation. Recollecting how she felt when she was with those friends, she tosses her dice again in hopes of finding a new friend, even if the chance of death taking her new friend is high.