A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘How happy is the little Stone’

‘How happy is the little Stone’ is a delightful and delighted lyric about the simple features of the natural world, written by the prolific poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86). This poem is more upbeat than some of Dickinson’s more famous poems, which take on themes such as death and depression, so we thought it worth sharing here.

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn’t care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears —
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity —

Wouldn’t it be nice to live a life free from stress and pressure, work and the need to meet others’ demands all the time? The stone in the road leads such a ‘life’ – although, of course, Dickinson is employing a bit of personification, since the inanimate stone is incapable of feeling happiness.

Yet we as humans habitually transfer our own desires and emotions onto inanimate objects: the stone seems happy to us because it doesn’t share the same worries and pressures that we do in our workaday world. ‘How happy is the little Stone’: how happy it makes us, in other words, hinting at a carefree existence we can mostly only dream of or enjoy vicariously through such a contrast between us and it.

The stone is free from ‘Exigencies’ or urgent demands that come with having an important career – although ‘Careers’ is an inspired word for Dickinson to use, since stones do career or bounce along the road when forces of nature disturb them, and this stone is described as rambling in the road.

The stone is the product of the universe, of things coming together and developing in the way that they have, and this process might be viewed as part of the stone’s ‘destiny’, or ‘absolute Decree’, bringing in the cosmological and theological at the same time. But the stone is unaware that it is ‘fulfilling’ such a destiny or role: it simply is. Perhaps this is why the stone is so happy: ignorance is bliss.

Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems is well worth getting hold of in the beautiful (and rather thick) single volume edition by Faber. You might also enjoy our analysis of her classic poem ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ and her poem about madness, ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’.