“Success is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson is presently regarded as one of the most prominent and fruitful American poets that ever exist, even though the world saw only about ten of her poems during her life. Although Emily Dickinson led a calm and secluded lifestyle, she was, at the same time, vividly interested in the events of the outside world, especially in the matters of her motherland, that is the United States. One such act that explicitly displayed her intense experiencing concerning the fate of the country profoundly involved in the Civil War was a work named Success is Counted Sweetest published anonymously. Thus, this paper aims to review and examine Success is Counted Sweetest regarding its central theme, literary devices, form, and rhyme scheme.

Summary and Themes

Success has Counted Sweetest is a three-stanza verse that concerns the correlation between “triumph” and “need,” and “success” and “defeat.” In essence, only in facing the necessity, particularly of something significant, an individual can genuinely appreciate the things occurring in life. Moreover, the poetess asserts that success is the most desired for those who experienced dramatic loss. Persons who frequently win and taste success cannot feel true achievement. In this context, the poem introduces the readers to the pitiful state of those soldiers who, hoping to achieve success in the image of victory, are wounded and close to death. No soldier in the army who won today’s battle has such a complete comprehension of the high value of victory as a moribund soldier of the opposite host (Batool and Mumtaz 51). The distant sounds of the festivity, the symbol of their defeat, are bitterly distinct to the ears of a dying soldier. Thus, the collation of “triumph” and “need” strengthens the real meaning of “victory” and “success” in the human mind.

Literary Devices

Alliteration, the appearance of the same sound or letter at the beginning of closely related words, emerges in the poem several times. At first, Dickinson employed alliteration in the opening stanza that contains repeated [n] and [s] sounds at the start of words, namely, “success,” “sweetest,” and “succeed” and “ne’er,” “nectar,” “need” (Batool and Mumtaz 53). The combination of these sounds makes the moral idea robust and apparent, contrasting “success” and “sweetest” to “nectar” with “need.” Another instance of alliteration in Success is Counted Sweetest can be found in the ninth line where the sound [d] alternates in adjectives “defeated” and “dying.” The sound forms the sense of fatigue and slow, heavy movement to the end. This alliteration also echoes with the word “distant,” drawing the clear distinction between defeat and victory. Additionally, the poem has consonances, the repetition of consonant sounds in the line. For example, the sounds [r] in the strophe “Requires the sorest need” and [t] in “The distant strains of triumph” make the author’s message more memorable.

Dickinson also effectively used symbolism in her poem to signify ideas and distinguish them from their literal meanings. In particular, “nectar” represents victory, triumph, and luxury, whereas the word “purple” implies bloodstains (Batool and Mumtaz 53). The word “Host” can stand for master, superior, winner, or king. It seems that the king is accustomed to waging many successful bloody wars that ultimately dyed his uniform in purple and made him indifferent to victory. Besides, trumpets symbolize victory for the won soldiers but defeat for the failed dying soldiers.

Finally, the poetess masterfully applied paradox meaning a heterogeneous statement or idea that can be true but contradictory. For instance, in the first two lines, “Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed,” Dickinson emphasized that the real strive for success predominantly can in those who are defeated (Dickinson). Furthermore, the reader can find a single metaphor such as “to comprehend nectar” in the third line, where nectar relates to the victory’s sweetness. The author also uses enjambment throughout the poem, especially for the second stanza entirely built on this technique.

Form and Rhyme Scheme

The poem comprises three stanzas with four lines each, mostly written in iambic trimeter, which refers to quatrain typically utilized in ballads. This type of stanza has been used to demonstrate emotions and feelings coming from the poetess. The first stanza directly indicates the verse’s idea, that is, failed people’s deep understanding of success, while the next two unfold it using illustrative examples, namely, in the form of a dying soldier. Notably, in the first and the third stanzas, Dickinson uses a rhyme scheme known as abcb (Batool and Mumtaz 53). Besides, the work has only two rhyming pairs, namely, succeed – need and ear – clear. The tone of the poem is tranquil, sincere, sympathetic, and suggestive of her reflection and feeling.


In summary, the paper has reviewed and analyzed the poem Success is Counted Sweetest by Emily Dickinson regarding its central theme, literary devices, form, and rhyme scheme. The poem’s theme is that success is the most desirable for those who experienced appreciable loss and an acute necessity for a significant accomplishment. Individuals who often win and taste success become impotent to enjoy genuine triumph. Alliteration, such as [n], [s], [d], consonances [r] inline four and [t] in line eleven, symbolism, including “nectar,” “purple,” and “Host,” paradox, metaphor, and enjambment are literary devices used in the verse. Regarding the form, the poem comprises three quatrains written in the iambic trimester with a rhyme scheme abcb.

Work Cited

Batool, Zamurrad, and Mumtaz Ahmed. “Stylistic Analysis of “Success Is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickenson.” European Journal of English Language, Linguistics and Literature, vol. 1, no. 1, 2014, pp. 50-54.

Dickinson, Emily. Success is Counted Sweetest (112). Poetry Foundation. Web.

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