Success is Counted Sweetest Poem by Emily Dickinson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Success is counted sweetest” by Emily Dickinson is a poem/ballad that focuses on the idea of failure that is more important than a victory as victory cannot be truly appreciated till one faces failure. Dickinson uses heavy imagery to display this idea in the poem. 

About the Poet

Emily Dickinson is one of the most well-known poets till date. Her poems often involved themes of love, nature, self-identity, and death. Her style was unique as she always composed her poems in tetrameter instead of pentameter. 


“Success is counted sweetest” is a ballad by Dickinson composed in iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter, which was commonly used by Dickinson in most of her poems. The ballad consists of three quatrains and 12 lines in total. 

Summary and Analysis 

Stanza one 

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.


Success is truly appreciated by people who never succeed, people who often face failures know the true value of success. To taste the sweetness of this success, strong ambition is required. 


The speaker discusses the importance of success as the poem begins. The speaker’s success is most appreciated by people who never succeed easily as they don’t take it for granted. Oftentimes, especially in today’s world, parents usually hand down their success to their children and the kids never know the hardships behind being successful. 

The speaker therefore says that a person who does not get things easily will appreciate it more. The taste of success is mentioned as sweet as nectar. And it will be sweeter for those who worked hard for it. But this nectar cannot be tasted by everyone. For being successful, one requires ambitiousness and willingness to commit their efforts and time into things that will lead to their success. 

Stanza Two 

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory


The soldiers that won in a battle and acquired the flag can never tell what victory is despite winning. They may have won but they are unaware of its importance. 


The speaker here paints a picture of a battlefield. The soldiers who fought in the war have won and they host their flag of victory. The soldiers are identified as the colour “purple” which often signifies the rich and royal people. 

These soldiers who won today, when asked, would be unable to tell the definition of victory. Despite their victory, they may not know its value as victory cannot be appreciated by those who succeed. In fact the colour purple suggests they won not because of their hardships but due to the surplus army and weapons. Therefore, their victory might not mean much to them because they already have won. 

Stanza Three 

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!


These victory celebrations are heard by the fallen soldier who was defeated. Their victory is heard by the fallen soldier, clearly in his pain. 


The last stanza reveals that as  the soldiers who won were celebrating by hosting the flag in the battlefield, their celebrations were heard by a defeated soldier who had lost the battle. 

Their cheers echoed all over the field and ringed in the soldier’s ears while he was already suffering through his injuries. The celebration that fell upon his ears was perhaps more agonizing than his injuries. 

Here, the speaker describes that to this fallen soldier, victory is more meaningful as he lost the battle and his fellow comrades that gave up their lives for this battle. All of that is wasted  as they lost the battle. He knows the sacrifices that were made to win the battle and the victory that he desired, which never came true. Therefore, even if the opposing team wins the battle, they won’t know what failure feels like. The taste of victory for them won’t be that sweet.