Success is Counted Sweetest, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

In "SUCCESS IS COUNTED SWEETEST," Emily Dickinson explores the concept of success and its true value through paradoxical and thought-provoking imagery. The poem delves into the idea that those who have never experienced success fully understand its sweetness, while those who achieve it often fail to appreciate its significance. Through vivid contrasts, the poem highlights the bittersweet nature of success and the perception of victory.


SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.


"SUCCESS IS COUNTED SWEETEST" explores the idea that the true value of success is often better understood by those who have not experienced it firsthand. The poem suggests that the thirst for success intensifies one's appreciation for it, while those who attain victory may not fully grasp its meaning. The poem contrasts the experiences of those who succeed with those who fail, emphasizing the poignant realization of success's sweetness in moments of defeat.

Critical Analysis

The poem "SUCCESS IS COUNTED SWEETEST" presents a paradoxical perspective on the perception of success and its significance.

The opening lines "SUCCESS is counted sweetest / By those who ne'er succeed" establish the central theme. The paradoxical notion that those who haven't experienced success appreciate it most sets the tone for the poem's exploration.

The metaphor of "a nectar" implies that understanding and appreciating success is akin to savoring a sweet nectar. The phrase "Requires sorest need" suggests that the intensity of desire or need enhances one's understanding of success's sweetness.

The poem contrasts the perspective of the victorious soldiers ("purple host") who "took the flag to-day" with that of the defeated. The victorious soldiers cannot truly define the sweetness of success, while the defeated soldier experiences a more profound understanding of victory's definition.

The imagery of the defeated soldier "dying" and hearing the "distant strains of triumph" highlights the bittersweet realization of success. The phrase "Break, agonized and clear" emphasizes the contrast between the distant sounds of victory and the agony of defeat.


  • Value of Adversity: The poem suggests that the experience of failure or defeat can deepen one's appreciation for success and its sweetness.
  • Perception and Appreciation: The poem explores how the perception of success varies depending on one's experience and perspective.
  • Bittersweet Nature of Success: The poem emphasizes that success can be bittersweet, especially when experienced by those who have faced defeat.


  • Thirst for Success: The poem conveys the idea that a strong desire for success enhances the appreciation of its sweetness.
  • Irony and Paradox: The poem employs irony and paradox to challenge conventional notions of success and its perception.


  • Metaphor: The metaphor of "a nectar" is used to convey the idea that comprehending success is akin to savoring a sweet substance.
  • Imagery: The imagery of the victorious soldiers, the defeated soldier, and the distant strains of triumph contribute to the poem's exploration of contrasting experiences.

Reflect on your own experiences with success and failure. How does the poem's paradoxical perspective challenge your understanding of the relationship between success and appreciation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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