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

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

Emily Dickinson daguerreotype.

Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Emily Dickinson is a towering figure in American literature. This 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 observation. 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 Emily's death. The bulk of her poems were published by Thomas Higginson and Mabel Todd in 1890. 

The Poem

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.

'If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking' Analysis

To understand the poem, one needs to understand the poet and her life. Emily Dickinson was a recluse who had barely any interaction with people outside of her home. Most of her adult life was spent shut 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

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. In this poem, the poet talks about how she would happily spend her life helping those who suffer from heartbreak, deep sadness, and despair. By wishing to help a fainting robin back into the nest, she reveals her vulnerable and sensitive side.

Her deep sensitivity for the welfare of others, even before personal self, is the message conveyed in the poem. It is a message of kindness, 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.

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. She was a saint for thousands of homeless, sick, and orphaned people. She worked hard to bring happiness into the lives of the terminally ill, the miserable, and the 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 those in despair.

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. She went on to inspire, teach, and guide hundreds of people who were physically challenged. Her noble work helped to change the lives of millions of people around the world.

Angels in Your Life

If you look around, you will find that you, too, are surrounded by angels who have taken care of you in the past. These angels could be your friends, parents, teachers, or loved 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.