The Meaning of "Success is Counted Sweetest" – A poem written by Emily Dickinson

The Background
Emily Dickinson came up with this poem titled "Success is Counted Sweetest" in 1859. It’s indeed a lyric poem which was published anonymously in the 1864 edition of "Brooklyn Daily Union". Later on, it was re-published in ‘A Masque of Poets" in the year 1878. Here we have tried to provide the meaning of this poem.

The Structure
The poem is written in 3 stanzas with a definite rhyme scheme. The poet used alliteration, paradox, imagery, metaphor and other poetic devices in sending her message across.

The Meaning
The poet uses the pictures of a dying warrior and a conquering army to portray that only the person who has suffered defeat can actually understand what success means. It goes on to suggest that people who actually succeed don’t appreciate the fact of their success. It’s only failures that truly appreciate success. This is exactly where the meaning of the poem’s title "Success is Counted Sweetest" is derived. It’s only individuals who have never succeeded that count success sweetest in order to succeed.

Meanwhile, the message of the poem changed a bit afterwards. The issue of want and desire came into the discussion. The poet suggests that only the starving person can truly appreciate food. Those who already ate food are not starving and hence, they can’t appreciate food anymore.

Furthermore, the poet in the last stanza takes the reader to a battlefield. She tries to compare the idea of losing and wining. Soldiers in the winning army don’t appreciate the fact of their victory. It’s only the losing soldiers that appreciate it.

All through the poem, the theme centers on success, failure, and fame. The central message in the poem is that only those who fail truly understand the meaning of success. They simply count success as sweetest. There’s an element of truth in the assertion. In most case, people who make it in life don’t really appreciate what they have. It’s only failures that truly appreciate success; but when they eventually succeed, they seem not to appreciate success anymore.