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24 October 2011

The Bee is not afraid of me.

The Bee is not afraid of me.
I know the Butterfly.
The pretty people in the Woods
Receive me cordially—

The Brooks laugh louder when I come—
The Breezes madder play;
Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists,
Wherefore, Oh Summer's Day?
                                                                      - F 113 (1859)  111

The mood of this poem is quite different from F104 where “A something in a summer’s Day” “solemnizes” the poet. This one starts off quite gaily with poet and Nature in happy and friendly accord. We have the bouquet of “B”s again: Bee, Butterfly, Brooks, and Breezes – and it is as if they are dear friends and playmates. The “B” alliteration, along with the “p”s of “pretty people” keep the tone bouncy.
            But not all is well in Paradise. The poet finds herself a bit weepy. Sometimes all the glories of a summer day are not enough to overcome grief or even melancholy. Sometimes, in fact, the simple beauty and joy exacerbates our sense of failure. Still, however, I would like to think that “The Brooks laugh louder when I come.”

4 comments:

  1. A new entrant to the world of Emily Dickinson but now simply fascinated by her works.

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  2. Thanks for opening this discussion, apparently I am a bit late. Based on the holograph from the summer of 1859 (F113), this poem is lineated and punctuated as follows:

    The Bee is not afraid of me.
    I know the Butterfly -
    The pretty people in the Woods
    Receive me cordially -

    The Brooks laugh louder
    When I come-
    The Breezes madder play;
    Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists,
    Wherefore, Oh Summer's Day?

    I know this all may seem nit-picky, but the asymmetry between the two stanzas is important, not just because Dickinson drafted them that way, but to set up the climax of Line 8. I would simply note that the first stanza gives us four-beat lines paired with three-beat lines. But with Stanza 2, the music is broken. Just as you observed, yes, there is "trouble in paradise" and the three figurative logs that we step over (the three three-beat lines of Stanza 2) are broken by the five beats of Line 8; in fact, the entire poem turns on that line. I think Dickinson is doing something a bit more radical here than enacting an emotional response to the beautiful, alternative fairytale world of the woods, more than remembering something melancholic. I think she is directly interrogating -- perhaps even indicting -- emotion itself as a film or state that places the world in an obscuring hothouse of her own making, then leaves the poet looking for where the objective reality of that object is (a Summer's Day) when she now cannot see beyond the panes surrounding her. Even more perplexing, the interior object illudes her from within this metaphorical hothouse. This double irony "rhymes" with the earlier moments in the poem that seem to me like little roadmaps to the egocentric predicament: I mean the poet's presence makes brooks "laugh louder" and breezes "madder play," but of course those shifts are all artifacts of proximity. Yes, Dickinson and all of us have the misfortune of being fixed under the anchoring pin of a compass. We don't control when the needle bounces and weaves; we don't determine when it settles down and stops, then, in all the sturm and drang of feeling things, can we even make out where the compass points?

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    Replies
    1. I'm enchanted by the "silver mists" that continue so fluidly the fairy woods setting. With the upwelling of those silver mists the joyous summer's day vanishes. I see the egocentricity you refer to -- and I think that plays to Dickinson's teasing out perspective from consciousness in many of her poems. Her world is full of portents and messages, it reveals an often terrifying, often awesome, and sometimes as in this poem, a tender consciousness. The poet's perspective amplifies, negates, describes – and dynamically affects the pantheistic world.

      As you suggest, it is emotion that introduces the disturbance in the flux. It is the poet who sees and records it.

      Thanks for your very interesting comments! I was drawn back to another poem: http://bloggingdickinson.blogspot.com/2012/09/many-phrase-has-english-language.html
      that shows that more explicitly ties emotion to how nature's portents and revelations are received.

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