The noun presentiment is pronounced prih-ZEN-tuh-muhnt . The simplest definition of this word is premonition. I think that everyone has had, at some time or another, a feeling that “something is going to happen”. It is usually used when the feeling of something to come is of something evil or bad. Often, it is a steadily rising sense of foreboding. There is no definite reason for the feeling or vague expectation, it just seems like a direct perception that something is about to happen.

A rare use of this word is to mean prepossession. That is, an opinion or sentiment that was imagined beforehand.

Presentiment is a derivative of the Latin word praesentire. Another source says that this word comes from the French word presenter. This word comes directly from the Latin word praesentire. Praesentire means “to feel beforehand”. It breaks down into two words. The first is prae- which means “before” and the other being sentire which means “to feel”.

A word that looks and sounds similar but has a completely different meaning is presentment. Presentment is the “offering of a note or bill of exchange for acceptance or payment”. I point this out because being just one small letter more, presentiment is often easily mistaken as presentment while reading fast.

Emily Dickenson wrote and published a poem by this name in 1955. It is one of many poems she wrote defining words.

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.

In this poem Emily Dickinson uses metaphor. Every word after “Presentment is” is a description of a shadow. If you do not pay close attention it is easy to think that the poem is only about a shadow. To truly understand the poem you must apply the details she uses to describe the shadow to a presentiment. The poem talks for a long shadow. A long shadow can be seen before whatever is casting it, just as presentiment is a feeling that happens before an event. Long shadows happen at the end of the day, as the sunsets. Presentiments are often about death and setting suns are common as symbolism for death. The way she speaks of the grass being startled by the warning represents how a person is startled by foreboding.

By using the present tense Dickinson manages to capture the sense of impending evil. The present sense gives the reader a feeling that the danger is not safely over with. The author uses the length of the lines in the poem to duplicate the length of the shadow. She also uses a pattern of s sounds as a form of alliteration to connect important words and ideas.


Pre*sen"ti*ment (?), n. [Pref. pre- + sentiment: cf. F. pressentiment. See Presentient.]

Previous sentiment, conception, or opinion; previous apprehension; especially, an antecedent impression or conviction of something unpleasant, distressing, or calamitous, about to happen; anticipation of evil; foreboding.


© Webster 1913.

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