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10 February 2013

A Toad, can die of Light –

A Toad, can die of Light –
Death is the Common Right
Of Toads and Men –
Of Earl and Midge
The privilege –
Why swagger, then?
The Gnat's supremacy is large as Thine –

Life – is a different Thing –
So measure Wine –
Naked of Flask – Naked of Cask –
Bare Rhine –
Which Ruby’s mine?
                                                              F419 (1862)  J64

Why should an Earl swagger in pride when he will meet the same fate as a toad or a gnat? They all will die, and “Death is the Common Right” – not a privilege. That’s the point Dickinson is making in the first stanza of this little poem. What puzzles me is the first line. Can toads die of light? They are nocturnal and live in damp hiding places, so maybe so. But I doubt that Dickinson would toss out the word “light” lightly. I suspect she means that the creepy crawly toad who can’t stand the light of day has the same right of death as any nobleman.
An earl in its own right
         The second stanza directs our attention to life. It’s not death that reveals your quality – for every living thing must die – but rather how you live your life. Dickinson uses wine as a metaphor: Take away the fancy bottle or flask, take away the fancy French oak cask, and how good is your wine? How good is mine, she asks in the last line. Am I a cheap ruby red? Or maybe a clear and easy-to-drink claret? I suspect Dickinson would be a dry, dark red Bordeaux.

Rhyme scheme: AABCCBD  EDFDD. That “F” rhyme, however, is an internal rhyme: “Flask” goes with “Cask” quite neatly. Another good rhyme: Midge and privilege.


  1. Emily knew her Shakespeare, whose toad had a jewel in its head -- perhaps a ruby? Wouldn't put it past her.

    1. Interesting - which play? Thanks for the reference!

    2. As You Like It ~ Act II Scene 1

  2. Hey, I'm currently having a class on Emily Dickinson's poetry and just wanted to thank you because your blog helps me so much with understanding these amazing poems better and is a great inspiration for own ideas (which I need for short texts we write in this class) as well. :)

  3. Emily as a dry, dark red bordeaux. Nice. A very rich wine, indeed, with a long complex finish that leaves us tipplers leaning against the sun.