Emily Dickinson, I never hear the word “escape” (77)

I never hear the word “escape” (77)
Emily Dickinson

I never hear the word “escape”
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation
A flying attitude!

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug childish at my bars
Only to fail again!


1st stanza: “blood” is physical and immediate. “Expectation” is not quite as sudden as “blood,” nor as physical. An expectation can be articulated. An “attitude” seems to be the synthesis of “blood” and “expectation.” It certainly is felt, but has some sort of universality. There is an ascent from the earthly (“quicker blood”) to the heavenly (“flying”). Central to that ascent is “sudden.” Not simply time, but that time would solve the very problems it poses.

What is the appeal of “escape?” “Quicker” and “flying” might make us think the speaker is wishing for death. But again: what is the appeal of death? It almost seems the word “escape” carries with it certain feelings we want to feel, even if we have nothing to escape from (does the concept of revolution fall under “escape?”).

2nd stanza: “Attitude” brings our speaker to “broad.” These are wide and strong prisons abroad. Our speaker has never heard of them being “battered down.” It is as if prison is self-construction (with some help from society). One might think a “flying attitude” a universal spirit, that of a people, or a liberated self. It is none of those. It is simply characteristic of selves. “Attitude” was always grounded, as it was the “quicker blood” from the start.

One can’t really deconstruct oneself. So what does it mean to “tug childish… only to fail again?” “My bars” indicates the self-limitation, “childish” and “fail again” the source of renewal. Something in us wants to grow and emerge. It may tug half-heartedly, as escape depends on being imprisoned. It may try to break the bars and end up frustrated entirely. It may end up placing the bars elsewhere. “Childish” is a source of strength and thus a source of weakness.


  1. Personal evolution (or the failure to evolve) through negotiations with structures of escape and the aesthetics of flight has interested me in as diverse a range of works as The Medea and Cowboy Bebop. You articulation of some of these ideas through a compact lyric reading is really nice!

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