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04 October 2011

Have you got a Brook in your little heart

Have you got a Brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so—

And nobody knows, so still it flows,
That any brook is there,
And yet your little draught of life
Is daily drunken there—

Why –  look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow,
And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
And the bridges often go—

And later, in August it may be,
When the meadows parching lie,
Beware, lest this little brook of life,
Some burning noon go dry!
                                                                   - F 94 (1859)  136

Rather than still waters running deep, Dickinson presents us with an image of a “little heart” with not a river but a Brook. It’s flowers are “bashful”, and so delicate and tremulous a place it is that even the birds blush to drink there and “shadows tremble.” If that weren’t enough, it can get swollen to bursting in the floods of spring—its “bridges often go” – and in late summer it might very well dry up altogether.
            The poet asks the reader directly whether or not she has a little brook of her own, implying that some people don’t have this lifespring. Perhaps they just plod along lifelessly, or perhaps they have a less vulnerable source of life. Brook people get easily overwhelmed with floods of emotion or wither away without any life-giving water to replenish it. Maybe river people keep a more even keel.
            I don’t find this one of Dickinson’s more successful poems. The first line puts me on the spot: Am I alive enough, do I have such a lovely spot inside me? Yet by the end of the poem I’m questioning the value of such a vulnerable source for a “little draught of life.” Perhaps the key word is “little.” A little heart requires only a little “draught of life.” The voice itself is little and bashful, opening with that timid-sounding question. Several phrases are inverted in service of the rhyme, and this always strikes me as lazy. Dickinson doesn’t need to do it in other poems but here we have “so still it flows”  and “the meadows parching lie.”
            The meter and rhyme, however, move the poem along at a nice, bubbling-brook pace. Several long “o” words and rhymes provide a nice open feel: blow, so, nobody knows, flows, overflow, go. The  meter is a charming combination of iambs and anapests: “And nobody knows, so still it flows” can be read as iamb, anapest, iamb, iamb. Similar patterns are seen in the 9th and 15th lines.
            It seems likely to me that Dickinson is writing about the source of her poetry. She wrote her poems alone in her room and no one knew how very many she wrote. Her sister and life-long friend were amazed at the quantity. Sometimes she might be flooded with creativity, but she was always aware of the fragility of it all. She knew very well that without a well spring or rain, her poetry would “go dry.”


  1. Hello
    Congratulation for your beautiful writings.
    Please let me know, what does Emily mean by "When the meadows parching lie"??
    I don't understand this part.


    1. It means "when the meadows are parched" (very dry, as they would be in late summer). The sentence would more grammatically read: "When the meadows lie parching".

  2. Your comment on the brook being the source of her poetry and her creativity very insightful. It didn't strike me. I too, was confused, by this poem in the fashion that it begins with the delicious promise of introspection but quickky dwindles away. And then, I thought of another interpretation.

    But, for me, the river represents any kind of ideals that may have once held close. Perhaps, in the avalanche of life, these ideals were ignored and tossed aside on the altar of pragmatic necissity. That's probably why she says 'draught of life'. To indicate that altough the ideals have been sacrificed, deep down we still allow ourselves a secret visit to them every now and then. It would explain why she says no one knows it's there by virtue of it's stillness. We hardly live by those ideals anymore so perhaps others wouldn't suspect they were ever there.

    I did not understand her references to March. It's wholly plausible they're references to the climate at that place at that time. But perhaps they represent teenage and old age respectively? In our adolescent teen years, our values go through turmoil and change. Perhaps this is what she means by snow falling and the bridges being crushed. And in the cynicism of old age we lose them entirely. This is why she says the brook may dry out then.

    1. While Spring traditionally is linked to youth, I think here March refers to the waterways swollen by snow melt. A little brook could well become a river and overwhelm its banks.

      I think you're on to something, though, with the ideals. They are certainly part of the wellspring of life, though as you say, they may become more subterranean over time.

  3. What do you mean by, the bridges often go?
    In the line-
    And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
    And the bridges often go.

    1. Snowmelt makes the brook level rise so high that it takes out the bridge.

  4. I ruminated the poem. It is exhilarating.
    But I couldn't get the moral of the poem.
    So please tell me the message of the poem. Thanks.

  5. Do you have a private little brook that no one knows about -- that you can go to to drink from its waters and be refreshed? You would worry about big storms that would flood and harm it, or the dry months when it would go dry.

    Now, the poet says this little brook is in your heart. What might it stand for? Your answer might be different from others because you might have a different brook than others. It's a very personal poem.

    1. Thanks very much for spending time for my interrogation.

  6. What does the poet mean by, ‘ And yet your little draught of life / Is daily drunken there?

    1. A 'draught' is something you would drink -- like draft beer. And 'drunken' is just past tense of 'drink' - the draught of life is drunk daily there. People have various thoughts about what it means to have a draft of life in the little brook of your heart. Dickinson implies, too, that some people might not have the little brook in their hearts.