There's Something Quieter Than Sleep, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

In "There's Something Quieter Than Sleep" by Emily Dickinson, the poet contemplates the mysterious and ineffable nature of death. Through the use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Dickinson explores the enigmatic aspects of death, its quiet presence, and the varying responses it evokes in people. The poem delves into the complexity of human emotions and attitudes toward death, highlighting the contrast between the quiet acceptance of some and the more emotional reactions of others. Dickinson's exploration of death as a quiet and inscrutable force invites readers to reflect on the ways in which different individuals cope with the concept of mortality.

There's Something Quieter Than Sleep

There's something quieter than sleep
Within this inner room!
It wears a sprig upon its breast —
And will not tell its name.
Some touch it, and some kiss it —
Some chafe its idle hand —
It has a simple gravity
I do not understand!
I would not weep if I were they —
How rude in one to sob!
Might scare the quiet fairy
Back to her native wood!
While simple-hearted neighbors
Chat of the "Early dead" —
We — prone to periphrasis
Remark that Birds have fled!


"There's Something Quieter Than Sleep" contemplates the nature of death and the varying responses it elicits. The poem envisions death as a quiet force that resides within an "inner room." It wears a sprig on its breast and remains unnamed, adding to its enigmatic nature. People react differently to death — some touch it, some kiss it, and some even chafe its hand. Despite its quiet presence, death possesses a simple gravity that remains elusive to understanding. The speaker contrasts their own response to death with that of others, stating that they wouldn't weep if they were in their position. Expressing concern that emotional displays might disturb death's quiet nature, the speaker remarks that simple-hearted neighbors talk about the "Early dead." In contrast, the speaker employs periphrasis (indirect or roundabout language) to convey the departure of birds, symbolizing death.

Critical Analysis

"There's Something Quieter Than Sleep" delves into the complex realm of human emotions and attitudes toward death. The poem's structure consists of short stanzas, reflecting the brevity and enigmatic nature of the theme.

The poem opens by introducing the concept of something "quieter than sleep" within an inner room. The quiet nature of this force, symbolized by the sprig on its breast, evokes a sense of mystery and reverence.

The contrasting reactions to death — touching, kissing, and chafing — underscore the different ways people cope with mortality. These actions reflect both physical and emotional responses.

The speaker's admission of not understanding the "simple gravity" of death suggests that the true nature of mortality remains beyond human comprehension.

The speaker's statement "I would not weep if I were they" reveals their detachment from the emotional reactions of others. This detachment might stem from a desire to respect the quiet nature of death.

The image of the "quiet fairy" being scared back to her "native wood" emphasizes the delicacy and serenity of death, and the speaker's concern that excessive displays of grief might disturb this tranquility.

The contrast between "simple-hearted neighbors" discussing the "Early dead" and the speaker's use of periphrasis to remark on the departure of birds reinforces the idea that human reactions to death can be both emotional and indirect.

"There's Something Quieter Than Sleep" prompts readers to reflect on their own attitudes and emotions toward death. The poem raises questions about how individuals approach mortality and highlights the diversity of responses within a community.


  • Mystery of Death: The poem explores the mysterious and inscrutable nature of death, emphasizing its quiet presence and the differing responses it evokes.
  • Emotional Variability: The poem delves into the range of emotional reactions people have toward death, from quiet acceptance to intense grief.
  • Human vs. Nature: The contrast between human reactions and natural events (birds leaving) underscores the complex relationship between humanity and the natural world.


  • Contemplation and Reflection: The poem conveys a reflective tone as the speaker contemplates the nature of death and its impact on individuals.
  • Detachment and Concern: The speaker expresses detachment from emotional displays of grief while also showing concern for disturbing the quiet nature of death.


  • Imagery: The imagery of the "inner room," the sprig on death's breast, and the quiet fairy contributes to the poem's enigmatic and contemplative atmosphere.
  • Metaphor: The poem uses the metaphor of death as something "quieter than sleep" to convey its mysterious and tranquil nature.

Literary Devices

The poem employs the following literary devices:

  • Metaphor: The comparison of death to something "quieter than sleep" serves as a metaphor for the mysterious nature of mortality.
  • Contrast: The poem contrasts different reactions to death — touching, kissing, and chafing — to highlight the emotional diversity of responses.

Feel free to engage in discussion and share your insights on "There's Something Quieter Than Sleep" in the comments section below. How do you interpret the poem's exploration of death's quiet presence, the varying emotional responses it elicits, and the contrast between human reactions and natural events?

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