For Each Ecstatic Instant, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"FOR EACH ECSTATIC INSTANT" by Emily Dickinson explores the balance between moments of joy and the accompanying moments of anguish and suffering. Through its concise yet powerful verses, the poem delves into the idea that moments of intense happiness often come at a cost of equal intensity in terms of pain and sorrow. Dickinson reflects on the complexities of human emotions and the bittersweet nature of life's experiences.


For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years —
Bitter contested farthings —
And Coffers heaped with Tears!


"FOR EACH ECSTATIC INSTANT" delves into the idea that moments of intense joy or ecstasy are often accompanied by a corresponding intensity of anguish or suffering. The poem asserts that there is a proportional relationship between these emotional states, with the anguish serving as a counterpart to the initial happiness. The poem also suggests that the depth of emotions experienced in a single ecstatic moment can lead to extended periods of pain and sorrow.

Critical Analysis

The poem begins by establishing a connection between moments of ecstasy and moments of anguish. The word "ecstatic" conveys a sense of intense joy, while "anguish" represents intense pain or suffering. The word "instant" emphasizes the fleeting nature of these emotional experiences.

The second stanza uses the imagery of a mathematical "ratio" to describe the relationship between ecstasy and anguish. The phrase "keen and quivering ratio" suggests the sharp contrast between the two emotions and implies that the intensity of the anguish is directly proportional to the intensity of the ecstasy. This contrast reflects the idea that strong emotions are often followed by equally strong reactions.

The third stanza introduces the concept of the "beloved hour," which may refer to a cherished moment of happiness. However, the stanza also introduces the notion that such moments come with a price, referred to as "Sharp pittances of years." This suggests that the happiness of an hour can be followed by prolonged periods of suffering.

The poem concludes with the image of "Coffers heaped with Tears," suggesting that the accumulated sorrows over time are stored like treasures or riches. This final image reinforces the idea that moments of ecstasy and happiness are inevitably accompanied by subsequent pain and sorrow.


  • Bittersweet Nature of Life: The poem explores the bittersweet nature of human experiences, highlighting the inextricable link between joy and suffering. It suggests that the intensity of happiness often brings an equal intensity of pain.
  • Emotional Depth: The poem delves into the depth of human emotions and the complex interplay between different emotional states. It suggests that the magnitude of emotions can lead to both intense highs and lows.
  • Human Vulnerability: The poem reflects on the vulnerability of human emotions and the inevitability of experiencing both moments of ecstasy and moments of anguish.


  • Contrast: The poem contrasts moments of ecstasy with moments of anguish, emphasizing the relationship between these emotional extremes.
  • Acceptance: The poem seems to accept the interconnectedness of joy and sorrow, suggesting that they are an inherent part of the human experience.

Literary Devices

  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid imagery to describe the contrasting emotions of ecstasy and anguish, as well as the image of "Coffers heaped with Tears."
  • Metaphor: The concept of paying an "anguish" as a price for each "ecstatic instant" serves as a metaphor for the emotional toll that intense experiences can have.

Discussion Question

How does Dickinson's use of mathematical and economic imagery, such as "ratio" and "pittances," contribute to the exploration of the relationship between ecstasy and anguish in the poem?

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