"If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking": Understanding Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson's Poems Teach Us How Selfless Love Can Heal Pain

Emily Dickinson: American Poet
Emily Dickinson: American Poet. Credit: Three Lions / Stringer/Getty Images

Emily Dickinson: Famous American Poet

Emily Dickinson is a towering figure in American literature. The 19th century poet, though a prolific writer remained secluded from the world for most of her life. Emily Dickinson's poetry has a rare quality of truthful observations. Her words echo the images around her. She did not stick to any particular genre, as she wrote whatever intrigued her the most.

The diminutive, introverted poet wrote more than 1800 poems during her lifetime. However, fewer than a dozen got published while she was still alive. Most of her work was discovered by her sister Lavinia, after her death, and was published by Thomas Higginson and Mabel Todd in 1890. 

Emily Dickinson's Poetry: "If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking"

Most of Emily Dickinson's poems are short, with no titles. Her poems leave you yearning for more, wanting to delve deep into the mind of the poet.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Understanding the Poem Through Emily Dickinson's Life Story

To understand the poem, one needs to understand the poet and her life. Emily Dickinson was a recluse with barely any interaction with people outside her home. Most of her adult life was spent away from the world, where she attended to her ill mother and the affairs of her home. Emily Dickinson expressed her sentiments through poems.

Selfless Love Is the Theme of the Poem

This poem can be categorized as a 'love poem' though the love expressed is hardly romantic. It talks about a love so deep that it places others before self. Selfless love is the true form of love. Here the poet talks about how she would happily spend her life helping those who suffer from heartbreak, deep sadness and despair. By helping a 'fainting robin' back into the nest, she reveals her vulnerable and sensitive side.

Her deep sensitivity for welfare of others, even before personal self is the message conveyed in the poem. It is a message of kindness, a compassion that one human should afford another human without the need for display or drama. A life that is devoted to another's welfare is a life well lived.

Mother Teresa and Helen Keller: Saints Who Followed the Path of Selfless Love

A striking example of the kind of person Emily Dickinson talks about in this poem is Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was a saint for thousands of homeless, sick and orphaned people. She worked hard to bring happiness in the lives of the terminally ill, and the miserable destitute who had no place in society. Mother Teresa dedicated her entire life to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, and wipe a tear from the faces of despairing souls.

Another person who lived for the welfare of others is Helen Keller. Having lost her ability to hear and talk at a very early age, Helen Keller had to struggle hard to educate herself. Helen Keller went on to inspire, teach, and guide hundreds of people who were physically challenged. Her selfless work is the reason many blind people can read and write. Her noble work has helped to change the life of millions of people around the world.

Angels in Your Life Who Blessed You With Selfless Love

If you look around, you will find that you too are surrounded by angels who have always taken care of you. These angels could be your friends, parents, teachers, or dear ones. They support you when you need a shoulder to cry on, help you bounce back when you give up, and ease your pain when you are going through a bad phase. These good Samaritans are the reason you are doing fine today. Find the opportunity to thank these blessed souls. And if you want to give back to the world, read this poem by Emily Dickinson again and reflect on her words. Find an opportunity to help another person. Help another person to redeem his or her life, and that is how you can redeem yours.