The Heart asks Pleasure – first Poem by Emily Dickinson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “The Heart seeks Pleasure – first” is written by Emily Dickinson. It was first published in 1890. The poem talks about the desires of the heart. The poet lists out the things that the heart wants in an order. She talks about pleasure, relief from pain and seclusion. The poet suggests that the heart seeks joy and satisfaction above all else. Following pleasure, the poem mentions the desire for relief from pain, indicating the heart’s longing for comfort and freedom from suffering. Lastly, the poem touches upon the wish for seclusion, highlighting the heart’s inclination towards moments of solitude.

About the Poet

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She was a prominent American poet. She was an important influence on American Literature. She had published numerous poems, including “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, “Because I could not stop for Death” and “A Bird came down the Walk”. She captures moments of nature in a vivid and insightful manner. Dickinson’s ability to convey complex ideas with simplicity has contributed to her enduring influence in the realm of American poetry.


The poem is a very short poem consisting of only 2 quatrains, each stanza consisting of four lines each.

Stanza 1

The Heart asks Pleasure first,

And then, excuse from Pain ;

And then, those little Anodynes

That deaden suffering ;


In the first stanza the poet talks about all the things that a heart wants and asks for. Initially, the heart craves pleasure, emphasizing the pursuit of joy and happiness as a primary longing. Following this, the poet mentions the heart’s wish for relief from pain, indicating a desire for comfort and freedom from distress. The stanza concludes with a reference to “Anodynes,” which are painkillers or substances that alleviate pain. This implies that after seeking pleasure and relief, the heart desires a remedy to subdue any lingering pain.


The first stanza starts with a very confident tone, here the poet lists out the things that a heart desires in an order. She starts by saying that the priority for a heart is pleasure. The heart wants to do everything to get pleasure and reduce the pain. It wants an escape from pain and if that does not work, then “anodynes”, traditional painkillers, to deaden the pain of suffering. The poet personifies “Heart”, “Pleasure”, “Pain” and “Anodynes” by capitalizing the first letter.

Stanza 2

And then, to go to sleep ;

And then, if it should be

The will of its Inquisitor,

The privilege to die.


In this stanza the poet talks about how if there is no escape from pain and suffering, then the heart wants sleep. Sleep is seen as a refuge, a way to temporarily disconnect from the pain. However, if even sleep can not be acquired, the poet expresses that the heart longs for the liberty to die. This reflects a deep yearning for relief, suggesting that when confronted with prolonged agony and the inability to find solace in sleep, the heart contemplates the idea of liberation through death as a means to end its suffering.


In this stanza the poet looks at the alternatives to ending her heartache and suffering. If the painkillers do not work, then the poet says that the heart wants to sleep. Sleep will allow it some temporary relief. But if even sleep can not help reduce the pain then she wishes to ask the “Inquisitor” to allow it to die. Here the “Inquisitor” can be a reference to either God or a lover. The poet wishes for the inquisitor to allow her heart to die. She considers this death to be a “privilege”.