Emily Dickinson is known for her powerful poetry that can often be a bit confusing owing to her different writing style with dashes and pauses. Fame is a Fickle Food is one such example.
This is an excellent poem that’s still relatable, hundreds of years after it was written. To make the poem easily understandable, here is the summary of Fame is a Fickle Food
Fame is a Fickle Food by Emily Dickinson
Fame is a fickle food Upon a shifting plate Whose table once a Guest but not The second time is set Whose crumbs the crows inspect And with ironic caw Flap past it to the Farmer’s corn Men eat of it and die
The subject of the poem is fame and how it is perceived by humans. Dickinson uses the metaphor of food and hunger to show how much people depend on it and need it.
But the nature of the food is shown to be fickle, meaning that it is never certain if it shall remain with you or not. It is a fickle food that is also served on plates that keep moving to different people.
So from the definition; fame is like some food that barely lasts, and it is also not served certainly as the plates keep shifting. This part of the poem shows that fame does not last and today it might be with someone, but the next day, it might shift to someone else.
The second stanza gives us an alternative to fame. Dickinson says that fame is such a food that even the crows do not want to eat, even though they can easily get it. They caw at it, almost as if showing their disgust towards it.
The crows prefer to leave the food of fame and move to the Farmer’s corn. There is significance to the term “Farmer’s Corn” because it has been capitalized.
What Dickinson is trying to convey is that the food that takes effort and time, and grows in abundance is what the crows prefer. This food is the opposite of the type of “food” famous.
In the end, Dickinson says that even crows do not have an appetite or desire for such fickle food. They leave the crumbs to the humans so that they can have them, and starve.
So the theme of the poem is very clear. Dickinson is talking about our mindless pursuit of fame, hoping it would fill us up. People think fame is food that fills the hunger of our souls, but that is not true.
While we assume that it can fill it, it is a fickle food that goes away as soon as it comes. Whatever fame lasts only for some time and then it is gone, leaving the person alone and melancholy.
While you are here, take a look at the complete analysis of this poem here.