I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth,--the two are one;
We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms.
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

Both speakers die "for" either beauty or truth. The primary meaning of "for" is "in the cause of." It has a secondary meaning, which is "to achieve" or "to have as a goal." Which meaning is appropriate here, or can both be meant?

Dickinson associates beauty and truth in this poem. The speakers' deaths are described in parallel language; they are buried in "adjoining" rooms and are "brethren" and "kinsmen." These descriptions also make clear that they are not identical; otherwise they would be buried in the same room and be twins.

The ending is subtly prepared for with the question "why I failed?" The crucial word is "failed," rather than "died." Their deaths and any hopes of succeeding in their goals are futile. The moss covers their lips and their names on the grave marker; death has ended all communication and effectiveness. With this image Dickinson shows the powerlessness of the human condition and the relentless indifference of nature to human beings, who are obliterated at death. The speakers are never named; they are anonymous. Is it ironic that the only life in the poem is the moss?

Dickinson Syllabus

W, March 14 Dickinson, Online overview
Selected Poems," pp. 1-24
**Supplemental Reading**
      "For each ecstatic instant"
      "I taste a liquor never brewed"
      "Safe in their alabaster chambers"
      "I heard a fly buzz when I died"
      "It was not death, for I stood up"
F, March 16, Online class
Selected Poems pp. 25-49
"A bird came down the walk"
"I like to see it lap the miles"
"Pain has an element of blank"
"A narrow fellow in the grass"
"I'm nobody! Who are you?"
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, March 19 Selected Poems (continued)
"After great pain a formal feeling comes"
"The soul selects her own society"
**Supplemental Reading**
      "The heart asks pleasure first"
      "I'll tell you how the sun rose"
      "Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn"
W, March 21 Selected Poems (continued)
"Success is counted sweetest"
**Supplemental Reading**
      "I cannot live with you"
      "He fumbles at your spirit"
      "I felt a cleaving in my mind"
      "My life closed twice before its close"
F, March 25, Online class
Selected Poems (continued)
"Wild nights! Wild nights!"
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms"
"Hope is the thing with feathers"
"I felt a funeral in my brain"
"I had been hungry all the years"
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, March 26 Selected Poems (continued)
"I started Early--took my Dog--"
"My life had stood a loaded gun"
**Supplemental Reading**
      "I died for beauty, but was scarce"
      "Because I could not stop for Death"
      "If you were coming in the fall"
W, March 28 Midterm
**Supplemental Reading**
      Sample Midtern and Student Answers

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