Discussion questions and related resources for the poem "185" by Emily Dickinson

Dickinson did not title her poems, so (as with Shakespeare’s sonnets) numbers are often used to refer to them in place of titles.

“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

Questions for Discussion and Writing

1. Read the poem aloud and describe its rhythm and sound—meter, rhyme scheme, sound devices. What effect do these elements have?

2. Why do you think the word “Faith” appears in quotation marks? (Consider the significance of the word “invention.”) What do you think microscopes represent to the speaker? What point is the speaker expressing about these things? What kind of “Emergency” might the speaker mean?

3. Why do you think the speaker specifically mentions “Gentlemen”?

4. In addition to science and rational thinking, what other situations and contexts might this poem be relevant to?

Related Resources

“185” by Emily Dickinson: Poem and Discussion Questions (PDF)

Poems About Science

The Poetry Foundation: Emily Dickinson (Biography, poems, related content)

The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (with an introduction by Billy Collins)
Amazon | Parnassus | Powell’s

PDF version

Questions © 2009 and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.