Water, Is Taught By Thirst, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"WATER, IS TAUGHT BY THIRST" by Emily Dickinson succinctly encapsulates profound truths about the relationship between contrasting elements in life. The poem employs concise and evocative language to convey that the value and significance of various experiences and emotions are often understood and appreciated through their contrasts and counterparts.


Water, is taught by thirst.
Land — by the Oceans passed.
Transport — by throe —
Peace — by its battles told —
Love, by Memorial Mold —
Birds, by the Snow.


"WATER, IS TAUGHT BY THIRST" presents a series of succinct comparisons that highlight the interconnectedness of contrasting elements in life. Each line juxtaposes a concept with its counterpart, suggesting that the appreciation and understanding of one is often shaped by the presence or absence of the other. The poem suggests that experiences, emotions, and qualities derive meaning from their interactions with their counterparts.

Critical Analysis

The poem opens with the assertion that "Water, is taught by thirst." This phrase encapsulates the idea that the value and necessity of water become most evident and appreciated in the context of thirst. Thirst serves as a contrasting experience that enhances our understanding of the importance of water.

The following lines continue this pattern of contrasts. "Land — by the Oceans passed" implies that the significance and expanse of land are emphasized when contrasted with the vastness of the oceans. "Transport — by throe —" suggests that the experience of movement and transport is understood through the context of difficulties or obstacles.

Similarly, "Peace — by its battles told —" implies that the concept of peace gains depth and significance through its contrast with conflict and battles. "Love, by Memorial Mold —" suggests that the lasting impact of love is understood through the memories and impressions it leaves behind.

The final line, "Birds, by the Snow," suggests that the presence of birds is accentuated against the backdrop of snow, symbolizing the contrasting elements of life and nature.


  • Contrasts and Interactions: The poem explores the idea that the understanding, significance, and appreciation of various concepts and experiences are often shaped by their interactions with their counterparts.
  • Value through Context: The poem suggests that the value and meaning of certain qualities and experiences become more evident and appreciated when contrasted with their opposites.
  • Complementary Nature: The poem emphasizes the interconnectedness and complementary nature of contrasting elements in life. One enhances our understanding and perception of the other.


  • Appreciation: The poem conveys an attitude of appreciation for the nuanced and interconnected nature of contrasting elements in life. It acknowledges that contrasts enrich our understanding and perception of the world.
  • Insight: The poem suggests that insights and wisdom often arise from recognizing and considering the interactions and relationships between contrasting elements.

Literary Devices

  • Contrast: The poem employs contrast as a central literary device, using juxtaposition to highlight the relationship between various concepts and experiences.
  • Metaphor: The poem uses metaphorical language to compare various concepts and experiences, highlighting their interconnectedness and interdependence.

Discussion Question

How does Emily Dickinson use the concise and simple structure of the poem to convey complex ideas about the interconnectedness and mutual enhancement of contrasting elements in life?

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