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28 August 2011

Some things that fly there be—

Some things that fly there be—
Birds—Hours—the Bumblebee—
Of these no Elegy.

Some things that stay there be—
Nor this behooveth me.

There are that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the Riddle lies!
                                          - F68 (1859)

Dickinson rhymes Bumblebee with Elegy, be, Eternity, and me.  Super! Especially linking the busy buzzing bumblebee with Eternity—but then in earlier poems we have seen the Bumblebee stand in for God. God, the busy bee.
     The poem is simply constructed: three stanzas of three lines each,  and with just two exceptions each line in trimeter. Reminds one of the Trinity, no? And indeed, the mysteries of the heavens are the point of the poem.
            The first stanza informs us that the poet won’t be writing about things that fly—and notice that there is a triplet of items listed, one abstract and two concrete nouns. The second stanza says she won’t be writing about ‘things that stay’ – and again a triplet list. Joy and Love don’t make the list; Dickinson chooses “Grief” for the emotion that, like Hills and Eternity, stay.
            The third stanza doesn’t give us much help either as she mentions the Resurrection (those ‘resting’ in the grave shall rise), but then says she can’t explain it. It is a Riddle and a very very quiet one at that.
            As to the two lines not in trimeter: those are the two list lines. Both begin with spondees and caesaras (two accented syllables interrupted and followed by a pause) and conclude with feminine endings that linger on the tongue. In fact, the line that follows each list line ends in two unaccented syllables – a pyrrhic foot. This strengthens the rhyme with the line before.


  1. How still the Riddle lies!

    Instead, could be read as temporally this Riddle is not telling us the truth. The riddle could be the poem or the place where "there" might be. I the poem is teasing the reader (or even the writer) that sometimes there aren't answers. Readers might think is "there" earth, heaven, life, death, or other place, and for each scenario give each of the three associated words (birds, hours, the bumblebee or grief, hill, eternity) different meanings: for example, grief is a lost one (in death), or that the hours fly to death (but we cannot offer our own elegy). But, "How still the Riddle lies," could mean that ED is asking the reader that all these scenarios might just not work or be complete (and hence lie). If one accepts this scenario, it works also with the second meaning of the line "How still the Riddle lies," ie the present Riddle lies dormant in our hands with an incomplete answer. It lies "Blowing in the wind..."

    1. Thanks for commenting on this poem. Re-reading it after having addressed a few hundred more, I see it in more richness -- which you bring up. It does seem as if the poet feels teased by life and what lies beyond life. (And I, too, think, as you mention below, that she spent time looking up or out the window contemplating and associating.)

  2. I imagine ED looking into the clouds, positing different figures for each passing cloud, and then thinking "nah none of them work."