“Success is Counted Sweetest” on Emily Dickinson’s 187th Birthday

[Emily Dickinson, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right] Prints and Photographs Division.

This coming Sunday, December 10, marks what would be Emily Dickinson’s 187th birthday. Around the country, Dickinson lovers will gather together to read all 1,789 of her known poems in a “marathon” tradition and tribute to the Belle of Amherst. The Library, in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library, hosted one such marathon in 2014.

Famously private and reclusive, Dickinson did not seek out publication for her work. Scholars believe that only 7-10 of her 1,789 poems were published in her lifetime, and none of them were authorized for publication by Dickinson herself. What’s more, all poems were published anonymously.

Her beloved poem, “Success is counted sweetest”—“Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed. …”—is numbered among those few published in Dickinson’s lifetime. Written in 1859, and first anonymously published in the Brooklyn Daily Union on April 27, 1864, “Success” is also the only known poem of Dickinson’s to be published in a book during her lifetime.

A Masque of Poets: Including Guy Vernon, a Novelette in Verse. 1878.

The story goes like this: Years after the poem’s first publication in 1864, Emily Dickinson’s close friend, Helen Hunt Jackson—a popular poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist in her own right—urged Dickinson to submit “Success is counted sweetest” to a forthcoming anthology of anonymous poetry. Jackson, apparently, didn’t understand her friend’s reticence to publish, and continued to push her, stating in one letter that submitting a poem to the anthology would give pleasure to “somebody somewhere whom you do not know.” Dickinson resisted so fiercely that she reportedly sought assistance from their mutual friend and mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, to tell Jackson he disapproved of the contribution as well.

A Masque of Poets. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Nevertheless, A Masque of Poets—published by Roberts Brothers and edited by George Parsons Lathrop—hit printers in 1878 and included “Success” among its pages. Since Dickinson had so intensely rebuffed Jackson’s pleas, it’s widely suggested that Jackson submitted the poem without her friend’s explicit consent. In a letter Jackson sent to Dickinson after the book’s publication, she wrote, “I suppose by this time you have seen the Masque of Poets. I hope you have not regretted giving me that choice bit of verse for it.”

In a published review of A Masque of Poets, Helen Hunt Jackson named “Success” as “undoubtedly one of the strongest and finest wrought things in the book,” though, since the whole anthology omitted attribution, cautioned readers not to speculate on the poem’s authorship. Perhaps this was Jackson’s way of appeasing her private friend. Regardless, it seems, many readers attributed the poem to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Which of Dickinson’s poems would you read to your loved ones in celebration of the poet’s birthday? Tell us in the comments.



Barnstone, Aliki. Changing Rapture: Emily Dickinson’s Poetic Development. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2006.

Phillips, Kate. Helen Hunt Jackson: A Literary Life. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003.

Priddy, Anna. Bloom’s How to Write about Emily Dickinson. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.

On This Day: Robert Frost’s First Professionally Published Poem, “My Butterfly,” appears in The Independent

On November 8, 1894, a poem by Robert Lee Frost, then a 20-year-old grammar school teacher in Salem, New Hampshire, appeared on the front page of the New York newspaper The Independent. The poem, titled “My Butterfly: An Elegy,” was the first poem Frost ever sold, and his first professionally published poem. Readers of Frost’s […]

La Biblioteca Podcast Series Launches

The following post by John Sayers, a public affairs specialist in the Library’s Office of Communications, originally appeared on the Library of Congress Blog. Today we launched our newest podcast series, “La Biblioteca” (The Library), in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Every Thursday for the next eight weeks, Library specialists will explore the Library’s […]

A Look at Alexander Hamilton’s Saucy, Religious, Sentimental Poetry

Alexander Hamilton—the first treasury secretary of the United States—was a man whose prodigious intellect and capacity for hard work may have been matched only by the magnitude of his written output. As noted in Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Hamilton, the scholarly editions of Hamilton’s personal, political, legal, and business papers amount to 32 volumes […]

Literary Treasures: John Ashbery Reads (1975)

The following post is part of our monthly series, “Literary Treasures,” which highlights audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, the series advances the […]

How Did Stephen King to the Dark Tower Come? Through Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland.”

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, adapted and released as a feature film earlier this month, is the latest in a long line of fantasy fiction to receive the big screen treatment.  While, like many works in its genre, The Dark Tower was partly influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, the work […]

A Literary Gem: The History and Future of the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape

The following is a post by Amalia Castaneda, 2017 Library of Congress Junior Fellow, Hispanic Division. It originally appeared on the 4 Corners of the World blog. This summer, as a Junior Fellow in the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress, I worked on the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape under the direction […]