Emily Dickinson: Our Latest Inspiration


Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By — Paradox — the Mind itself —
Presuming it to lead

Quite Opposite — How Complicate
The Discipline of Man —
Compelling Him to Choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain —

The writing group of the Mount Holyoke Club of Puget Sound has started a new project: we’re compiling an anthology of some of our writings, and it will be called The Angled Road. We spent a whole meeting talking about what this poem means, and it meant something different to just about everybody!  So we got the idea to start a webpage, in order to document our process, our obstacles, and our joys as we go down this angled road together….

Of course, parts of the poem will speak to some, and other parts will speak to others. Some may find this verse very inspirational, while others may find it inaccessible. No matter what, hopefully the poem makes you reflect on what an “angled road” might be, or how the term “the discipline of man” resonates in your own life. Here are some of our reflections on this poem:

Teri Bicknell, class of 1989:

In “Angled Road,” I feel an immense, anguished weight on the powerless observer, watching those who are busy at life unwilling to explore or understand the relationship between the mind (the inner guide?) and what is considered to be life experience.

At times I can relate. Many seem to barrel through life, seeming at best unaware and at worst to be blatantly ignoring or even defying the mind, only later finding themselves in a situation that could be viewed (by Dickinson or her readers) as “pre-appointed pain.”

Other times, I feel that experience and mind may as well the same, the one deriving from the other. And so when pain is encountered, perhaps it is in that way “pre-appointed.”

But what of the many who are building a more beautiful world each day through teaching, art, and other good works? Have they been compelled into a state of “pre-appointed pain” like the rest of Dickinson’s flock? I’m sure they have good days and bad. But if they were moving toward a painful end they had been compelled to seek, it’s hard to imagine they’d be sharing good on an ongoing basis, as can be objectively observed.

I’m glad for this poem. It is a mind-bending work of powerful observation and insight. But the certain pain that Dickinson has chosen for us is not my choice; it is not my truth.

copyright 2014 by Jules Dickinson ‘77

The Road is Life; the Angles on that Road are the choices and changes in one’s Life. Traveling the Angled Road is what gives a person Experience.  Experience is preferred over Mind; one concludes that Experience is more valuable than Mind. However, it is one’s Mind which chooses which Angles to travel during one’s Life. Therefore, paradoxically it is one’s Mind, the less valuable, which leads, chooses, and determines one’s Experiences, the more valuable.

Experience – change and growth – does not come without Pain. Even when a change is desired, it takes work, and therefore Pain, to bring about that change. Because one controls one’s own Mind, and because one’s Mind chooses one’s Experiences, one is choosing what Pain one will Experience.

The journey on the Angled Road – Life – is circular: the Mind chooses the Experience which changes Mind which chooses the next Experience which changes Mind which…

Reading Emily’s poem makes me think of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, another story of traveling a road which creates part of one’s life and experience.


By Mary Dowd Dicker ‘66

Emily Dickinson / 2014 common era/ uncommon woman:

it’s you who’s sent me down the

                                   angled road

                                           of Mind and Matter,

Frustrating my old Brain just ripe for questions of Mortality.


So, yes, I get it.

Paradox: what’s real, what’s not—


How base a life upon belief or pain when

materialists deny that anything I feel or I believe

exists at all?


Eliminating wayfaring as any source of wisdom

along the road of Experience?


Yes, in the darkness I see flashes of light on the perimeter

                               of my field of vision,

I see the



of migrainous jolts.

You can measure these.


You cannot measure the Motherwit of ordinary acts of love,

what happens when the traveler meets another.

A nod, a bow, a clasp of hands.

Good day. Good morning. Shalom.


 Sue Swanson ‘60

From the time we are small children we are taught the rules of the family, then school rules and finally the rules of society, “the discipline of Man”. “Fit yourself within society’s guidelines”, we are cautioned. “Stay on the straight road to find success and happiness.” But as humans we are also governed by our minds, our subconscious, our souls which often find the straight road too narrow. We seek to break free, to create. The struggle between the mind, soul and society, between intuition and reality is unending, an expression of our humanity

Experience is the referee of this struggle. Emily Dickinson observes in this poem that our intuition, our mind, may call us to a route that diverges from the life’s journey we had planned. She understands, however, that although our minds may presume that we will let experience be the leading influence in our lives too often the “discipline of man” overrides our experiences along the angled road. Instead we find ourselves compelled to re-trace our steps back to the narrow road, a road that Miss Dickinson sees as our “preappointed pain” and in that choice of words, a common human tragedy.



By Emily Dietrich ‘85

Angled origami,

The poem


A delicate unfolding–

More sharp flaps

And more, tiny,

To the center

Where it is not beautiful

But stark.


I hold the poem,


A philosophy in two verses,

Robbing me of a

Beloved self-deception.


Mary Ann Woodruff, ‘60

“The Angled Road of Experience is where we often find ourselves when we were planning other things. In our Minds, we may have thought we were on a straight path from point A to point B. Then, gradually or suddenly, we realize we have been on an Angled Road which, as Frost said, “has made all the difference.” We might think that the Angled Road is totally random, for it has nothing at all to do with the logic we expect of the Mind. But the reality is that we walk through some open doors and walk past other open doors; we choose some paths and not others. Hence the Paradox: no matter the destination, it is always something we have chosen, whether in our Mind or in that complicated, less understood part, our Soul. Perhaps the Angled Road of Experience is paved by the Soul.

Elizabeth Burr-Brandstadt, ’91

This poem makes me think about the relationship between experience and logic. The two should be parallel but are more often divergent. And living a life of trying to lead the “straight and narrow” rarely has led to inspiration for me: I do need the angled road. Most of all in this poem, however, I am taken with the idea of a “preappointed pain.” It makes me think of the painful experiences in my life, and the combination of my own creation/responsibility in the pain, as well as the kismet. Based on the paths I have chosen, what is due to me? How can I judge my own accomplishments and pain in the shadow of others’ lives works? Ultimately, this poem makes me realize this: that I love thinking about it. I want to be angled. I want to be a paradox. I want to be mindful. And I want it to be OK for me to want. And I want to be soulful and intelligent in my expression…just like our beloved Emily Dickinson!

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