Success is Counted Sweetest and Why You Need to Value the Little Things

Success is counted sweetest poem cover image

We are a big fan of Emily Dickinson and she is currently our most discussed poet. Every poem that Dickinson has written holds so much meaning and a beautiful message in them. Success is counted sweetest is no exception. This article will discuss the latent philosophy in the poem, the meaning, summary, theme, and analysis of the poem. 

Success is counted sweetest is a very special poem amongst the thousands Dickinson has written. This poem, along with a few others, was published while Dickinson was still alive. All the other poems were published posthumously. Although the poem was published, it was published anonymously. Dickinson was so shy about her poems that she instructed her sister to burn it all after she died. 

Success is counted sweetest holds a philosophy that is much needed for anyone doing anything in life. What is this philosophy and how does Dickinson communicate this message so beautifully? We’ll begin with the philosophy of the poem and the proceed with the summary and analysis. Here’s the poem:

Success is Counted Sweetest

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonized and clear!

The philosophy of Success is counted sweetest

Before we get into the analysis, I wanted to discuss the philosophy and the message of this poem. To encapsulate everything the poem wants to convey in one sentence, it would this; Success is a poor teacher, an unaware addiction, and an invisible privilege that one is made aware of when he/she loses it. And this message beautifully fits the lives of everyone who is trying to achieve something.

The one who works tirelessly knows the worth of success, the worth of what he/she is working on. When the dreams are prefaced by the success they want to achieve. This is not for someone who already has something. They won’t know the true worth of that particular thing until they lose it. This is what the message of the poem is, presented beautifully in lyrical poetry. 

To understand the worth of something, you have to struggle to get it. It is the struggle that makes it sweet. Even if there is something that you like and you get it in no time, you would never understand the value of it. And with these words, let’s more to the meaning and analysis of the poem. 

Success is counted sweetest analysis

In this analysis, we’ll bring the meaning of the poem stanza by stanza, interpreting the words of Dickinson and their meanings. 

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

The first stanza starts with the most important quality of success; Its true nature is realized only when one has experienced the lack of it. Only those who never have been successful (in a particular thing) know the real taste of success. Someone successful every time starts taking success for granted as it turns tasteless. 

There must be a need, an insatiable thirst for the nectar to truly taste the satisfying and relieving nature of it. This first stanza is about the dynamic between success and failure, about light and dark, about joy and pain. The meaning of one is truly understood with the presence of the other.

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

Can tell the definition

So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonized and clear!

I’ll put these two stanzas together because of the genius of Dickinson’s writing, whether consciously or unconsciously. Notice how the second stanza is all about success and the last stanza is about failure. When read separately, they are about success and failure but when read together, one can understand the sweetness of success. 

The second stanza is about the celebration of success when a battle is won and the flag is captured. The mind does not think of failure, the consequences of losing the war. It is lulled by the sweet, addictive success. 

The third stanza is about the one who knows the sweetness of success. It is about the one who has the sore need for the nectar. The last stanza talks about the soldier who is beaten to death, taking his last breath, and listening to the rejoice of victory. And at that moment, he truly comprehends the value of success. The last stanza delivers the last piece of the poem; You will never be aware of the misfortune when all you experience is good fortune. 

Success is counted sweetest poem by Emily Dickinson

The theme

Let’s talk about the theme of the poem. The major theme of this poem is the dynamic of success and failure. It is about the interdependence of these two opposites. It is about knowing the true worth of something until you live in the absence of it. 

Other themes that can be associated with the poem are ambition, pain, suffering, taking things for granted. What we can take from this poem is nothing must be taken for granted because even the smallest things that might seem insignificant can be sorely missed once we lose them.

The literary devices

Here are all the literary devices used in the poem;

Metaphor: Lines such as To comprehend a nectar and The distant strains of Triumph are examples of metaphors. To comprehend a nectar means the sweet taste of victory, represented by nectar and The distant strains of Triumph is about the rejoice of winning a war being heard by someone who lost it. 

Enjambment: Enjambment is used frequently in this poem. Here are all the examples of that:

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need.

The distant strains of triumph

Burst agonized and clear!

Alliteration: Alliteration is also used very liberally in this poem and that gives it a very melodious sound. Here are the examples:

Success is counted sweetest

As he defeated – dying –

Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of the consonant in a line. Here’s where consonance is used in this poem: 

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne’er succeed.

Requires sorest need.

The distant strains of triumph

Imagery: Creating a scene using the sensory invocation. In this poem, lines such as:

Not one of all the purple Host

Who took the Flag today

On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph

Syncope: The word ne’er is an example of syncope. 

Rhyming scheme: While the first stanza has a rhyming scheme of abcb, the second stanza goes into disarray with no rhyming pattern, converting it into a freeverse poem. The third stanza has a rhyming pattern of abcb. 

This was all about the poem Success is counted sweetest by Emily Dickinson. This is no doubt a great poem that teaches something so core to human nature in such beautiful verses. As we mentioned, we have written a lot about Dickinson’s works. Check some other posts about some of her great poems:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top