The Flower must not blame the Bee –
That seeketh his felicity
Too often at her door –
But teach the Footman from Vevay –
Mistress is "not at home" – to say –
To people – any more!
F235 (1861) 206
That pesky Bee, always seeking his “felicity” from the lovely Flower’s nectars. He must be politely turned away and discouraged. But oh what a difference a year makes! In “Did the harebell loose its girdle” (1860), the harebell was definitely considering helping her “lover Bee” out. But even then, the question lingered about whether or not the little scamp could respect her in the morning.
|The bee has to|
dodge this guy
And wasn’t it only thirty poems ago in “Come slowly – Eden!” that the bee was humming around the flower’s “chambers” only to enter – apparently with no muss or fuss about it – and become “lost in balms”?
This poem is decidedly cooler. In very formal diction the flower is instructed not to “blame the Bee” because he is by nature out for pleasure, even if it means making a pest of himself calling at the door of his “Flower.” The Flower isn’t some casual forest gentian or daisy lolling about on a stream bank. This flower is quite proper and even has a “Footman from Vevay” – a famous resort location on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The Footman might be assumed to be a cool professional. Dickinson has associated Switzerland with a certain cool aloofness before in “Our lives are Swiss – / So still –so Cool – .” The footman is given explicit instructions: Tell the Bee that I am ‘not at home … / “To people – anymore.”
At first the bee would be crestfallen. Mistress not receiving anyone?? But here’s the double take: Mistress isn’t home to ‘people’ anymore. But what about bees?? Is that an intentional loophole?
I find this a very playful way of pushing the lover away with one hand while beckoning him with the other. If the bee is smart he’ll find the back door and dodge the snooty Footman. Before too long he too might “count his nectars” (“Come slowly – Eden!”).
The two stanzas each have two lines of iambic tetrameter followed by one of iambic trimeter. The first two lines of each end in complete rhymes (Bee/felicity; Vevay/to say) and the last words of both stanzas rhyme (her door/any more). The tightly-knit effect contributes to the air of drollery and play. There’s certainly no animosity involved when the poetic metaphor for a hopeful lover and a proper maiden involves a flower and bee.