Emily Dickinson, “Good to hide, and hear ’em hunt!” (842)

Good to hide, and hear ’em hunt! (842)
Emily Dickinson

Good to hide, and hear ’em hunt!
Better, to be found,
If one care to, that is,
The Fox fits the Hound –

Good to know, and not tell,
Best, to know and tell,
Can one find the rare Ear
Not too dull –


“The Fox fits the Hound:” one of the principles of esotericism is fitting one’s work to attract/lead an audience. The hunted needs to understand the hunter thoroughly to pull this trick off. It is a dangerous trick: “better” as opposed to “best,” “if one care to.” Still, what is strange is that one is being hunted in the first place. Media that replaces “educated” with “informed” as the primary criterion for rationality also happens to have the virtue of interchangeability. Take any article from the Guardian and see if you can switch it with another from The Nation or The New Republic. This held true in all ages and times; it is unclear to me why anyone would be looking for another. The key to media’s interchangeability is that it tells us what we want to hear (ourselves) all the time.

I suspect the above discussion might explain “that is” in the third line. “That is” suggests “The Fox fits the Hound” is almost incidental; it may be the case that one’s work “fits” an audience, but it could also be the case that the audience doesn’t fit. One may be an inferior craftsman, but it is much more likely the audience isn’t even paying attention. The “hunting” is occurring for another purpose, elsewhere. The speaker is the one “hearing;” we have no indication the hunters hear. It is easy to see the ambiguous goodness of “better” and “if one care to” at this point; despite the dangers, all speakers would like to be heard.

“Good” and “Best” are linked by the exact same wording in the second stanza. The only thing differentiating the wording is the placement of commas and one “not.” “To know, and not tell” separates the knowing and the not-telling. This is curious: all of us can understand why one would separate knowing and telling. If it were knowing separate from telling, we could say that what the speaker is alluding to is the space where a decision is made. It could be the case that the same thing is happening here: the speaker knows, thinks about it, doesn’t speak. That’s “good.” “Best” is when one can simply know and tell, but that’s conditional: the hunted has to be an expert hunter, a “rare Ear not too dull” has to be found. I don’t know that “not too dull” is terribly cynical – what one needs in an audience are hounds that are willing and able to be led. Exceptionally vicious dogs that hunt to tear their prey apart may be great hunters, able to track any given scent well, but are useless as an audience. The confidence that the speaker would need to experience the “best” would make her dog-like more than fox-like; not the worst thing, but almost an argument for “better,” and the only certainty resides with the two “goods” that seem to be a starting point.

The poem can be discussed in Platonic terms: we can see the “dogs” as encompassing virtues a “gentleman” class would have. The difference between “better” and “best” describes Socrates’ relationship to gentlemanship: to be wise is to be a gentleman necessarily. But Socrates isn’t courageous in any martial sense – justice is simply do no harm for him, whereas justice includes “harming enemies” for an explicitly political class. This creates a divide between Socrates and ordinary gentlemen: they may be aner, “real men,” whereas he is simply anthropos, “human being.” One of Socrates’ accusers purposely used anthropos in describing Socrates well before the trial in an instance where he should have used aner.

I don’t know that I want to talk about this poem in terms of Plato right now, though. Anyone who clicks Sitemeter on the side can see the incredible number of search visits I’m getting that sit here for 20 minutes having searched for something like “analysis robert frost,” and then leave. I’m pretty sure most of my audience doesn’t cheat; I rarely see “free essay” or the like show up in search results. I do know that the vast majority are ungrateful, that “hunting” is about all education has become, if it was ever anything more.

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