And when his golden walk is done –
Sits shyly at his feet –
He – waking – finds the flower there –
Wherefore – Marauder – art thou here?
Because, Sir, love is sweet!
We are the Flower – Thou the Sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline –
We nearer steal to Thee!
Enamored of the parting West –
The peace – the flight – the Amethyst –
F161 (1860) 106
Dickinson scholars agree that this is a love poem to Samuel Bowles, editor of the influential Springfield Republican newspaper and frequent visitor to the two Dickinson households (her own and her brother Austin’s). Bowles may be the central love interest in her life, although there were others. In Dickinson’s day women not uncommonly identified themselves with garden flowers – bold poppies, for example, or demure and modest lilies. Emily Dickinson, in many poems and letters, referred to herself as a daisy – or even simply as Daisy.
The central story of this poem, the daisy turning its face towards the sun as it moves across the sky would be familiar to readers of her day. The myth of Clytie and Apollo figured in the art of the 1860s, according to Judith Farr. Here is the story, adapted from Ovid by Rick Walton:
There was once a Nymph named Clytie, who gazed ever at Apollo as he drove his sun-chariot through the heavens. She watched him as he rose in the east attended by the rosy-fingered Dawn and the dancing Hours. She gazed as he ascended the heavens, urging his steeds still higher in the fierce heat of the noonday. She looked with wonder as at evening he guided his steeds downward to their many-colored pastures under the western sky, where they fed all night on ambrosia.
Apollo saw not Clytie. He had no thought for her, but he shed his brightest beams upon her sister the white Nymph Leucothoe. And when Clytie perceived this she was filled with envy and grief.
Night and day she sat on the bare ground weeping. For nine days and nine nights she never raised herself from the earth, nor did she take food or drink; but ever she turned her weeping eyes toward the sun-god as he moved through the sky.
And her limbs became rooted to the ground. Green leaves enfolded her body. Her beautiful face was concealed by tiny flowers, violet-colored and sweet with perfume. Thus was she changed into a flower and her roots held her fast to the ground; but ever she turned her blossom-covered face toward the sun, following with eager gaze his daily flight. In vain were her sorrow and tears, for Apollo regarded her not.
And so through the ages has the Nymph turned her dew-washed face toward the heavens, and men no longer call her Clytie, but the sun-flower, heliotrope.
Bowles was a married man and perhaps if he were interested in anyone other than his wife Mary it would have been Dickinson’s sister-in-law Sue. And so in the poem when the sun “wakes” after his day’s duties are done, he finds the little daisy a “marauder.” The daisy, in her defense, can only claim love and the innate nature of flowers to follow the sun.
Louis Weldon (1849-1910)
The second stanza introduces an element of eroticism into the shy, romantic tone of the poem. As day declines it gets chilly, but the Daisy doesn’t seem to be concerned about the cold. No, she is “enamored” with the “Amethyst” of sunset, the peaceful “flight” of sunlight into “Night’s possibility.” As if to underscore her ideas about what such possibilities she is contemplating, the poet ends with an exclamation point. And following as it does the lilting iambs of “The peace – the flight – the Amethyst,” the strong trochees of Night’s possibility!” takes on excited urgency.
There is an old-fashioned quality to the “Thou” and “Wherefore” and other quaint diction that is in an almost amusing contrast to the sly licentiousness of the innocent little daisy.