Analysis of Faith Is A Fine Invention by Emily Dickinson

In this article, we are going to analysis the poem Faith Is A Fine Invention by Emily Dickinson.

I think this is one of Emily Dickinson's more fascinating poems. Because it's only four lines and 16 words. To appreciate this poem fully we need a little bit of background. 

First, the second half of the 19th century was a time of great intellectual upheaval. Lots of discoveries were being made that were forcing people to rethink basic assumptions. For example, the Christian Church had long held that the earth was about 6,000 years old. That number was arrived at by a literal reading of genealogies in the Bible

In 1862 a group of scientists estimated that the earth was between 20 and 100 million years old. Within a few years, that estimate was increased. Such ideas created stress because biblical accuracy was called into question. What if the Bible isn't true. 

Furthermore in the 1860s the existence of dinosaurs were discovered. It's hard for us to imagine thinking about the history of the earth without factoring in the dinosaur age. But these discoveries of these huge creatures that used to inhabit the earth was like a thunderbolt to the 19th-century world. 

It called into question all kinds of basic assumptions religious and otherwise. And there were important discoveries about cells and cell structure and other things. 

The world of the mid and late 19th century was a world of conflict between religion and science. We don't know for sure when Emily Dickinson wrote this poem. But people who study these things have narrowed it down to some time in the 1860s when all of this stuff was really bubbling.

Okay, that's the background now what about this poem. 

Faith is a Fine Invention Analysis

It is interesting to me that the word faith is putting quotation marks. The quotation mark suggests that the word is some kind of specially coined concept. And then it is curious to me that faith in quotation marks is an invention. 

Well, only men invent things. So there is at least the suggestion that faith is not genuine it's not real. It's a creation of man's now it doesn't say that faith was invented by gentlemen who see but for gentlemen who see. And that word see is another word that is rich in suggestion and connotation. 

what kind of seeing are we talking about here? Are we talking about the kind of seeing mentioned and much madness is divinest sense. Are we talking about seeing that goes beneath the shallow conventional wisdom? Or are we talking about seeing what we want to see and using faith to justify it? 

It seems to me you that much madness is divinest sense references one kind of seeing. And this poem references another. In much madness is divinest sense the speaker is talking about genuine insightful seeing. Seeing that goes beyond the surface and approaches true. 

In this poem, the speaker seems to be talking about a shallower kind of seeing. Seeing the traditional ideas in spite of scientific evidence and faith in quotation marks allows this seeing to persist. 

The last two lines again kind of flip the idea over. But microscopes are prudent in an emergency. Incidentally the italic subsea and microscopes are Emily Dickinson's, not mine. Microscope in this context represents or symbolizes science. Faith represents or symbolizes religion prudence, by the way, means wise or sensible. 


When the speaker says that microscopes are prudent in an emergency. An emergency might be a moment when we really need answers when we can't mess around with traditional ideas just because they're comfortable and make us feel good. 

So in this little poem of 16 words, Emily Dickinson seems to be coming down on the side of science and new thinking rather than on the side of religion and convention. However, to provide more historical and biographical context Emily Dickinson seems to have been quite a conventionally religious person. In many of her letters, she talks about how much her faith and her religion mean to her. And in other poems, she leans the other way in this religion-science debate. 

I love this poem because it is really a good example of a poet saying a whole lot in very few words.

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