Before the Ice is in the Pools, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"Before the Ice is in the Pools" by Emily Dickinson contemplates the anticipation of wondrous experiences before their arrival. The poem paints a vivid picture of the moments just before winter sets in, evoking a sense of eager expectation and the magic of the unknown.

Before the Ice is in the Pools

Before the ice is in the pools —
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow —
Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!
What we touch the hems of
On a summer's day —
What is only walking
Just a bridge away —
That which sings so — speaks so —
When there's no one here —
Will the frock I wept in
Answer me to wear?


"Before the Ice is in the Pools" portrays the speaker's eager anticipation of wondrous experiences. The poem begins by describing the moments before winter arrives — before ice forms in the pools, before skaters take to the ice, and before the snow tarnishes the landscape at nightfall. The poem then explores the idea that, just as wonders arrive with winter, other wondrous experiences are anticipated, transcending even the joy of Christmas. The poem contemplates the potential for magical moments that are just within reach, akin to touching the hems of a garment or crossing a bridge. The final stanza questions whether something cherished from the past, symbolized by the "frock I wept in," will return to answer the speaker's longing.

Critical Analysis

"Before the Ice is in the Pools" captures the essence of anticipation and the fleeting nature of moments before they fully materialize. The poem's structure reflects this anticipation, with its short lines and pauses between phrases, allowing readers to savor the moments of expectation.

The poem juxtaposes the imagery of impending winter with the idea of other wonders arriving. The choice of winter, a season of transformation, enhances the sense of change and transition. The speaker's focus on what comes "before" — before the skaters, snow, fields, and Christmas tree — builds a sense of suspense and curiosity.

The middle stanzas explore the idea that wonders exist within proximity, suggesting that enchanting experiences can be discovered in the everyday or just around the corner. The concept of touching the hems of a garment or crossing a bridge symbolizes the potential for encountering something extraordinary that is seemingly within reach.

The final stanza raises a question about the return of a cherished item from the past, personified as the "frock I wept in." This question delves into the theme of nostalgia and whether the past can be revisited or experienced anew.

"Before the Ice is in the Pools" evokes the bittersweet mixture of anticipation and longing, inviting readers to consider the moments of wonder that await them.


  • Anticipation and Wonder: The poem explores the theme of anticipation, suggesting that there are wondrous experiences on the horizon that hold the promise of magical moments.
  • Fleeting Moments: The poem captures the fleeting nature of moments just before their full realization, highlighting the delicate balance between anticipation and fulfillment.
  • Nostalgia and Yearning: The final stanza touches on the theme of nostalgia and the desire to recapture cherished moments or items from the past.


  • Eager Anticipation: The poem conveys a sense of eager anticipation and excitement for the arrival of wondrous experiences that are on the horizon.
  • Curiosity: The speaker's contemplation of what lies "before" various events reflects a curious and open-hearted attitude toward the possibilities of life.


  • Imagery: The poem employs vivid imagery of winter scenes, skaters, snow, and Christmas trees to create a visual backdrop that enhances the themes of anticipation and wonder.
  • Symbolism: The imagery of touching the hems of a garment and crossing a bridge symbolizes the potential for encountering extraordinary experiences that are close at hand.

Literary Devices

The poem employs several literary devices:

  • Antithesis: The contrast between "before" and the events that follow, such as skaters and snow, creates an element of anticipation and contrast.
  • Repetition: The repetition of "Before" emphasizes the concept of anticipation and sets the rhythm for the poem.
  • Metaphor: The idea of touching the hems of a garment and crossing a bridge serves as a metaphor for encountering enchanting moments within one's reach.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this poem in the comments section below and engage in a discussion about its themes, imagery, and emotional impact.

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