Talk With Prudence to a Beggar, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"TALK WITH PRUDENCE TO A BEGGAR" by Emily Dickinson reflects the speaker's contemplation of communication with individuals in different circumstances. The poem emphasizes the importance of speaking with sensitivity and awareness of others' experiences. Through vivid imagery and cautionary tones, Dickinson explores the potential impact of sharing certain information with those who may have contrasting life situations. The poem underscores the idea that our words can have profound consequences, whether offering comfort or inadvertently causing pain.


Talk with prudence to a Beggar
Of "Potose," and the mines!
Reverently, to the Hungry
Of your viands, and your wines!
Cautious, hint to any Captive
You have passed enfranchised feet!
Anecdotes of air in Dungeons
Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!


"TALK WITH PRUDENCE TO A BEGGAR" addresses the concept of communicating sensitively with individuals from different circumstances. The poem suggests that discussing certain topics with caution is essential to avoid unintentionally causing discomfort or harm. It highlights the contrast between sharing anecdotes of luxury with those in dire situations and the potential dangers of communicating experiences that may evoke painful memories.

Critical Analysis

The poem opens with the advice to "Talk with prudence to a Beggar / Of 'Potose,' and the mines!" The word "prudence" indicates the importance of careful consideration when speaking to someone from a different background. The reference to "Potose" and the mines" suggests discussing wealth and riches that may be out of reach for the beggar.

In the second stanza, the speaker advises speaking "Reverently, to the Hungry / Of your viands, and your wines!" Here, the word "reverently" emphasizes the need for respectful communication when discussing food and drink with someone who is hungry. The poem acknowledges the power of sharing experiences of abundance with those who are in need.

The third stanza introduces the idea of speaking cautiously to a "Captive" who has been freed. The mention of "passed enfranchised feet" suggests a person who has walked away from captivity. The poem implies that even anecdotes about the freedom and fresh air experienced outside of dungeons can evoke bittersweet memories for the person who has been held captive.

The final line "Anecdotes of air in Dungeons / Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!" underscores the potential for emotional pain when discussing experiences that contrast with someone's current situation. The phrase "deadly sweet" combines conflicting emotions of bitterness and nostalgia.


  • Empathy and Sensitivity: The poem emphasizes the themes of empathy and sensitivity in communication, highlighting the importance of considering the feelings and experiences of others before sharing certain information.
  • Contrasts: The poem explores the contrasts between different life experiences, such as wealth and poverty, hunger and abundance, and freedom and captivity.
  • Power of Words: The poem underscores the idea that words have the power to evoke strong emotions and memories, both positive and painful.


  • Caution and Thoughtfulness: The poem conveys the attitudes of caution and thoughtfulness in communication, urging individuals to consider the potential impact of their words on others.
  • Respect and Empathy: The poem reflects the feelings of respect and empathy toward individuals with differing life experiences, encouraging understanding and sensitivity in interactions.

Literary Devices

  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid imagery to convey the idea of discussing contrasting experiences, such as "Potose," "the mines," "viands," "wines," and "air in Dungeons." These images evoke a sense of the different circumstances being addressed.
  • Contrast: The poem employs contrast to emphasize the differences between various life situations and experiences, highlighting the potential for discomfort or pain when discussing certain topics.

Discussion Question

How does the poem highlight the potential emotional impact of sharing certain experiences with individuals from different circumstances? How do the vivid images and cautionary tones contribute to the message of the poem?

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