Emily Dickinson’s Poem, ‘How Happy Is the Little Stone’

Folks, it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these! Back when I was more prolific on my blog in 2020, I regularly did blog posts sharing and thinking through poems I enjoyed. I can’t even remember now the last time I did that.


In any event, I’m back with a poem from Emily Dickinson I’m surprised I didn’t already cover because of how much I like it.

As I think is customary with Dickinson poetry, the titles are taken from the first line of the poem, so this one is titled, “How Happy Is the Little Stone.”

It’s short enough to share in full 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.

What a lovely, simple evocation to what is desired within all of us, I suspect: Finding our own glowing alone, happy inner stone! To be coated with the passing universe’s brown instead of all that messy exigency matters (bills, socializing, existing). Also, how lovely is it that even the “little stone” gets a coating, even if passing, from the universe? The size and scope discrepancy and yet. There’s a metaphor in there as well.

And the best part? That freedom, that liberation from such exigencies, means the stone can “ramble” along. There doesn’t have to be some destination in mind. The stone can just be, rambling along the road, existing to exist. To be. And to be content within that.

If you’re not anchored down by exigencies, and/or pulled along by such a focus on the future (and its myriad expectations), then you exist in the present. One could interpret this poem in a rather Buddhist way in that regard.

The “casual simplicity” of the poem is I think what attracts it to me as well. For one, I’m always attracted to short, digestible poems. Secondly, Dickinson is writing clearly here. The poem is as accessible as that dang stone on the road is!

On a lighter note, I think there’s a tendency for humans, whether growing up or even as adults once we do get bogged down by such exigencies, to personify nature, like stones, or trees, or clouds, or (as poets are known for) the moon. That is, I can think of many such situations as a kid and/or as an adult where I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it to be nice to just be a stump in the middle of the woods?” And that attraction — the allure of it — stems from the sense of calmness associated therein. The world can feel chaotic and overwhelming, but that stump in the middle of the woods? Seems like it’s probably perfectly content living its little stump life, just like the little stone! And let’s not forget, it’s not as if the stump doesn’t have a part to play in the universe. After all, many wildlife and plant life find refuge in those stumps and fallen logs.

We all have a role to play in the universe, even if we’re just rambling along.

What do you make of this poem, or how do you interpret it? Do you like it, too?

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