What Is the Theme in “Success Is Counted Sweetest” by Emily Dickinson?

The theme of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Success Is Counted Sweetest” is that doing without something makes a person appreciate its worth more than actually having it does. The theme is revealed in the first two lines of the poem which read, “Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed.” In other words, no one appreciates the feeling of success better than a person who experiences failure.

Those who do without in this poem do not do so by decision. They want what it is they do not have and, by not having it, want it even more. The poem goes on to say that to understand fully the satisfaction and joy of victory, one must suffer defeat and have to listen to the joyous cries of the winner. Dickinson sends a similar message in her poem “Water, Is Taught by Thirst,” in which she alludes to the fact that only the truly thirsty appreciate all that water offers. This theme is a common one in everyday language. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a popular saying with similar meaning. Emily Dickinson lived a fairly reclusive life and went unrecognized in her work. She knew that her life was one of denial, a state she apparently chose for herself. This lifestyle, however, made her more sensitive and more poetic.