Poem #11: “I never told the buried gold” by Emily Dickinson


I never told the buried gold
Upon the hill — that lies —
I saw the sun — his plunder done
Crouch low to guard his prize.

He stood as near
As stood you here —
A pace had been between —
Did but a snake bisect the brake
My life had forfeit been.

That was a wondrous booty —
I hope ’twas honest gained.
Those were the fairest ingots
That ever kissed the spade!

Whether to keep the secret —
Whether to reveal —
Whether as I ponder
Kidd will sudden sail —

Could a shrewd advise me
We might e’en divide —
Should a shrewd betray me —
Atropos decide!

I struggled with this poem. I read it a few times and was still not completely certain what Emily was trying to convey. So I focused on the image of the gold, or the treasure, and tried to figure out what it could symbolize. The only thing I could come up with was that it was a metaphor for religious teaching, particularly the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. And the more I considered the poem from this perspective, the more it made sense. Christ’s teachings were presented in parables, with the truth hidden below the surface. And when you consider that the gold was buried upon a hill, then the idea of the treasure being the hidden meaning of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount makes sense.

Then I thought about the pirate, or Captain Kidd. It seemed likely that the pirate represents priests, who took possession of Christ’s teachings and wanted to be the keepers of the treasure, to be the sole guardians of the truth. But Emily had seen the treasure, and knew the truth herself. So now she is in a quandary—should she keep the secret or spread the truth? It seems that she found a compromise; keep the treasure hidden within her poetry but available to those with the wisdom to understand.

It seems at the end, Emily wonders whether her choice was the right one. She decides to let Atropos decide. Atropos is one of the Fates, so she is leaving it to fate to judge whether she was right or wrong. In my opinion, she was right.


Filed under Literature

4 responses to “Poem #11: “I never told the buried gold” by Emily Dickinson

  1. I have always had a hard time understanding poetry, not the beauty of it, but its meanings, so thanks for your analysis – I never would have been able to figure that out! I still remember in 7th grade, reciting an Emily Dickinson poem (“I’m Nobody, Who Are You?”) and then explaining its meaning. I thought I had that poem figured out, but the teacher pointed out I was all wrong (not a great tactic since I’m still stinging from it!). She was a very clever and deep thinker to write poems that seem so simple, but are not.

    • That makes me really mad! Your teacher obviously had issues. There is no right or wrong in interpreting a poem; there is only the emotions, thoughts, or impressions which the poem evokes in you. Great poetry is open to multiple interpretations and, like anything symbolic, can change over time. If you enjoy poetry and you find beauty in it, then read it, and don’t let narrow-minded people who feel they have to prove they are right discourage you from sharing your interpretations (I have gotten plenty of comments from people disagreeing with my interpretations… I just let it go).

      Your friend, Jeff

      • Thanks Jeff – it’s a good thing I’ve developed a thick skin since middle school. I remember reading an interview with Michael Stipe from REM and he was asked if their song Fall On Me was about acid rain. He said it should mean whatever you interpret it to mean. I always liked that comment (and the band!).

      • Exactly!! People want things to be one way or the other, right or wrong. But life and art are not like that. Now you’ve inspired me to find my REM ticket stub 😉