The Heart Asks Pleasure – First by Emily Dickinson

The Heart Asks Pleasure – First is one of the amazing poems written by Emily Dickinson. Many people believe that this poem is too short to have any meaning and believe it to be useless for deep consideration. However, I strongly disagree with this opinion as looking at the poem with a quick glance it is impossible to notice anything.

Only closer reading of the poem helps understand its main idea. Additionally, I would like to state that there are a couple of interpretations which come to my mind. It can be presupposed that the poem explains a process of soul existence, from the very first desire up to the death. However, the process may be considered from different angles. This problem is going to be the central idea for discussion in this paper.

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Rhyme, Rhythm, Structure, and Language

Dwelling upon the rhyme the author uses in The Heart Asks Pleasure – First, it can be noticed that it is impossible to see identical rhymes there. In this poem Dickinson uses imperfect and partial rhymes, however, it does not make the whole poem sound awkward or lack of melody.

Poem rhythm does not impress with something specific. Commonly used repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables is implemented. Paying attention to the specifics of rhyme, it seems that it is rhythm that makes the poem sound melodic and easy for perception. The poem consists of two stanzas which contain four lines each. The length of the lines is short that makes the poem reading easy and fast.

Still, one should not read this poem to fast as for better understanding, each line should be considered in detail. The language of the poem is simple, however, it is possible to notice several symbols. Saying ‘Inquisitor’ (quoted in Vendler 359) Dickinson means God, and having understood this specifics of the poem, it becomes obvious that talking about ‘sleep’, the author wants to say the desire to die, which is possible only when Inquisitor wishes it to happen.


Reading the poems by Emily Dickinson, including The Heart Asks Pleasure – First and many others, it comes to my mind that she wrote about several specific themes, such as person’s inner world, religion and faith, love, pain, death and nature. All the problems mentioned above, except for nature, are dwelt upon in the poem under discussion.

The Heart Asks Pleasure – First may be considered from personal and religious point of view. Each of these opinions deserves attention and they should not be confused as religious topic has some specific differences from personal one, even though they seem too similar from the first sight.

Considering the poem from personal, different from religious point of view, it may be believed that the author talks about her love. The author seems to show the specific needs of a human heart and soul. The first desire when one falls in love is to enjoy, “The heart asks pleasure first” (quoted in Vendler 359). Then, a person experiences pain and tries to find explanation to that pain different from personal guilt of being in love, “excuse from pain” (quoted in Vendler 359).

After the soul is empty and the heart is broken one searches for anything which can “deaden suffering” (quoted in Vendler 359) and if nothing helps deaths seems the best way out. Considering the poem from this perspective, Inquisitor should be seen as consciousness, inner desire either to live or to die. After unrequited love, some people do not find strength and desire to live further and see death as the only way out. They want just to fall asleep and never get up. Once consciousness allows them to do it, they die.

It seems that religion plays much in Dickinson’s life. The whole poem may be considered from this perspective. The word ‘ask’ in the first line confirms that the heart is dependant from something higher and more powerful. The whole poem is devoted to suffering except for one line of pleasure. Isn’t it a confirmation of the religious theme in the poem?

Only God has the power to relief pain and give a person a liberty to die as nothing on the Earth happens without God’s will. “The will of its Inquisitor” (quoted in Vendler 359) is the line which helps make the things obvious. Who can be called the Inquisitor except for God?

In conclusion, it should be stated that apart from general opinion that the poem The Heart Asks Pleasure – First by Emily Dickinson ahs nothing specific, we can consider the process of human heart and soul development either from personal or religious point of view.

Depending on the angle of consideration, either personal unrequited love or religion with devotion to God, one can interpret the poem in different ways. As for me, both these ways of interpretation deserve attention. It is just important that the process of soul development and existence is takes as the central issue for discussion.

Works Cited

Vendler, Helen. Poems, Poets, and Poetry. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.


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