The Courage To Be Human: On Dickinson’s "To fight aloud is very brave…"

Originally published 2006-02-16.

To fight aloud is very brave…
Emily Dickinson

To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.

Who win, and nations do not see,
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.

We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.


Our misery can come from a turmoil that only the truly brave will encounter.

Only the truly brave will challenge their own views such that their heart might change. But such challenges don’t require the cold use of logic as much as our putting ourselves in another’s shoes, thinking and feeling as he does, and grappling with a whole other perspective.

To be open to changing your heart is to put oneself into an emotional mess, one that no one else can really witness. People don’t notice a win or loss on this battlefield, and don’t doubt, there are losses, despite the bravery it took to initiate the attempt. There are times when we feel we must let our biases dominate, ultimately: something far greater may be at stake, and so we come to courage only by concealing our worry, our fear.

The angels have a dual significance on this reading, at least: they are the warriors for purity that demand we purify our hearts by going through the stressful process above. At the same time, their uniformity and regularity makes them subordinate to the forces in the heart of the brave, if they are not the actual forces in the heart of the brave.

It is angels fighting angels, not devils, when we want to do the right thing, and our mortal coil is indeed a heavenly battleground.


  1. i dont get this poem!! can u please provide a more detailed analysis of this. i thought this poem was about brave men fighting and how no one cares about if they win or loose. i do not see your point that the poem is about opening your heart to change. and talking about angels, i thought that eventually what it comes down to is getting a good burial and being sent to heaven

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