Search This Blog

11 March 2012

I taste a liquor never brewed –

I taste a liquor never brewed – 
From tankards scooped in pearl – 
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air  – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew
Reeling – through endless summer days – 
From inns of molten Blue.

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door,
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” – 
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
                                             - F207 (1861) 

Squirrel getting tipsy
 on summer figs
This famous poem dances and reels with lively nouns and verbs – a perfect diction for the poet’s inebriation with summer. The imagery turns the common into the fantastic: from beer frothing in a mug to “tankards scooped in pearl”; from bees ending their honey-gathering season once the summer flowers have died to “Landlords” turning the “drunken Bee / Out of the Foxglove’s door”–  as if summer were a pub for bees and the onset of winter was closing time; to snow-tipped trees being angelic “Seraphs” swinging “their snowy Hats”; and from a reclusive and proper woman poet to a “little Tippler / Leaning against the – Sun” as if the sun were a lamppost outside the pub. Great stuff!
            Inebriation with summer is the theme of the poem and we see it in each stanza: 1)  summer’s inebriation is almost heavenly. The finest Rhine wine could never equal it. The pearls that are its froth remind us of the pearly gates of heaven.   2) Even the air is inebriating. A bit of  dew has the poet “Reeling” through the summer – whose beautiful roof is “molten Blue.” 3) The poor Bee has overstayed and drunk too much and must be bounced. Butterflies run out of steam at summer’s end and so “renounce” their tiny “drams” of liquor. But our poet never flags – she’ll pick up the slack! 4) She’s going to drink and debauch right into fall until the snow falls. And there she’ll be, leaning against the sun for all the Saints in heaven to stare at out the windows of Heaven.
          For another delightful poem on inebriation with life, see "We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing –."


  1. Since my contemplative take on this poem was quite different, I appreciate your academic perspective and insight!

    1. I'd love to hear your take! There are many many ways to read Dickinson's poems and I enjoy my reader's thoughts very very much.

  2. Susan,
    Johnson has the third line -- "Not all the Vats upon the Rhine". I'm curious about the difference.
    Love what you do.

    1. That turns out to be an interesting question. If you look at the ED Archive, the scanned poems show that the "Vats" variant is noted at the bottom as a variant. But... "Leaning against the -- Sun!" is also written on the bottom as a variant. In the main poem, Dickinson has "From Manzanilla come!" Christanne Miller, in her important "Emily Dickinson's POems As She Preserved Them", uses both the Frankfort and Manzanilla lines -- as they look in the archival photos. So why did Johnson and Franklin make the decisions they did? I don't know. If you research it and find out, please let me know! I personally like both the Vats and the Leaning lines best.

  3. I love this! I've been obsessively reading all your insights and analyses since the past few hours.As a someone who's a beginner to poetry, you've made me appreciate Emily's poetry so much more!

  4. Saints, Seraphs, come running!
    Emily is drunk!
    Such a sight was never seen
    By readers plain as us.

    It’s nice to say,
    Bipolar hell has passed,
    And Emily is in between -
    The bottom and the top!

    1. Is there some truth to your comment? Did Emily have symptoms of Bipolar Disorder? Is this a relevant theory?

  5. Emily Dickinson Revisited: A Study of Periodicity in Her Work, John F. McDermott, M.D.,
    (Am J Psychiatry 2001; 158:686–690)