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03 September 2011

My nosegays are for captives

My nosegays are for captives;
Dim, long-expectant eyes,
Fingers denied the plucking,
Patient till paradise.

To such, if they should whisper
Of morning and the moor,
They bear no other errand,
And I, no other prayer.
                                                            - F 74 (1859)  95

Dickinson in this and other poems regards herself as a messenger of Paradise. At times her vision of the Afterlife is one of lovely serenity and joy—and even royalty.  There is F 13, “There is a morn by men unseen” where lovely maids dance and stars sip the skies and birds sing. In F 67, “Delayed till she had ceased to know,” Dickinson writes of a woman who died before an uplifting message about the Afterlife could be delivered.
            In this poem she explains that her nosegays  are for those who hold on to this life. These are the faithful old—not the vibrant and active set. Their eyes are ‘dim’ and they are ‘Patient’ and ‘long-expectant’. The poet feels a special calling to cheer them and help their wait. Her only purpose (her ‘errand’ and ‘prayer’) is for the nosegays to spark a bit of hope: the recipient might think of ‘morning’ (resurrection and rebirth) and the ‘moor’. ‘Moor’ comes from the Greek for ‘dark’ and ‘obscure’ and of course in England it conjures up the bogs and fens where travellers run into trouble. Crossing the moor is a way of thinking of death. Morning comes after the crossing.
            The poem is a bit dark. The poet sees people as captives here on earth. They are unable to pluck the flowers that they know exist in paradise. In fact, the scenario is even darker than simply being unable to pick for the captives are ‘denied the plucking.’ Consequently, the poet sends her own nosegays: flowers from her own garden as well as poems that convey her special insights into what lies after Death.
            After all, what could be more cheery than poems like this? Personally, I’d rather have just the flowers (or else read the poems in a book—rather than as a personal message)!


  1. The only thing I might add is that she is directing her message to those with troubled breasts, the long-suffering, as she may have been.

  2. ED often took small fragrant bouquets to house-bound invalids. The recipient in this case had age-dimmed eyes and had long expected death. Their arthritic fingers could no longer pick flowers, yet they waited patiently for paradise. ED admired their courage and hoped her nosegay would whisper of the dawn that would follow death’s passing darkness. Her flowers had no other purpose and she no other prayer.

    Perhaps ED gave her nosegay to her ancient gardener, "Old Amos" Newport, who died 16 August 1859 and was buried a few yards northeast of the Dickinson burial plot in West Cemetery in Amherst. Given the rampant racism of that time in western Massachusetts, internment of a Negro in West Cemetery probably required ED and her father to pull rank with local politicians.

  3. Not sure about “rampant racism” in that area of MA. Was the stomping grounds of Emerson and the heartbeat of the later anti-slavery…. I think the poem is about Emily accepting her secluded, almost invalid status; that it suits her; that she is and shall be a Patient till Paradise.
    A beautiful poem.