March 21, 2001
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant, by Emily Dickinson, is indeed a poem for eternity. From the very first reading, it moves as a hymn in this author’s mind, The Doxology and We Gather Together immediately being hummed. The Doxology, written by the Chaplin to the Bishop of England’s Westminster Cathedral for church services, carries the purpose of glorifying fidelity to one’s conscience and garnering strength in one’s convictions. We Gather Together is a prayer of thanks, which the Dutch settlers chose as their hymn of gratitude on the First Thanksgiving. It serves to praise religion, nature and survival in the New World. The irony cannot be missed; a poem reading like a church hymn, advises the reader to not exactly tell the blunt truth if asked. Thus, in the cadence of very familiar moving religious tunes, Dickinson implores one to tell the truth, but to give it an angle that makes it more palatable to the listener. Dickinson either wished to dramatically touch the spiritual side of the individual as he read the poem, or she was totally irreverent concerning religion. Either interpretation serves to get the message across.
Dickinson believes that most individuals do not possess the ability to handle truth with grace. Truth hurts. An example in its simplest form could be described as follows. An individual wishing to tell a significant other “I am sick of you! I do NOT want to date you anymore!” will find the message accepted more readily, and handled with more dignity if, in the telling, the truth is couched in a little white lie. “I don’t deserve a wonderful person like you; I could not ever be good enough for you, and since you ought to have someone much better than me; I am going to step out of your life and allow you to find someone more worthy of your wonderful qualities.” The truth, put into a sugar coated “line,” is less emotionally damaging and the receiver of the bad news will possibly remain more composed and self confident than hearing the truth. Therefore, the truth, bent, is less harsh to the listener, proving Dickinson’s lines,
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
The concept can be taken on a larger scale. Chaos would ensue if our government were to say, “There are aliens landing on our planet daily, moving from spot to spot, taking diseases of the locale (biologically created diseases from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Hoof and Mouth disease from the Queen’s England) to other spots on our planet. We do not know how to control the spread of these diseases, because we cannot anticipate where the aliens land, or how, when or to where they move around earth.” If this truth were to be announced in its pristine form, panic would engulf every spot on earth
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
Thus, the government would be prudent to gradually inform the populus the truth in a non-threatening, and less emotional manner. Funding positive movies about nice aliens which the masses would view could see that there may be aliens moving about, the government could, through a circuitous route, allow the people to become comfortable with the thought of outer space creatures roaming earth, and thus cope without panic. If the presence of aliens were explained to the world as one would gently inform a child of lightning, gaining his trust and respect for it, giving instructions how to safely handle it, individuals might behave rationally and accept the unusual.
With explanation kind
The government could manipulate the actions of society once it decided people were capable of handling the truth without panicking and causing a crisis of world proportions that it would be impossible to ever positively regroup the planet in an orderly fashion.
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind-
Truth is powerful. Often people simply cannot admit it. If complete truth is too powerful, perhaps a circuitous route, coming gradually, so it may not stir incomprehension would serve the teller and listener more effectively. Truth is personified, giving it a life of its own in Dickinson’s poem. The famous quote by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) still stands true: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Truth, introduced gently would eliminate the frightening stages of the quote. The irony of a hymn-like poem suggesting the “darker edge of truth” gives an eerie quality to the very honesty of Dickinson’s revelation. Then again, perhaps a hymn is what our world needs to face possible unknowns.