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31 March 2012

I stole them from a Bee –

I stole them from a Bee –
Because – Thee – 

Sweet plea – 

He pardoned me!
                                                            F226 (1861)  200

One is tempted to gnash one’s teeth over a poem like this. Stole what from a Bee? There aren’t a lot of options: honey (combs), stings, buzzing or humming, or flowers.  Regardless, the poet is expressing happy relief. Someone, a “He,” has pardoned her. By use of the legal term “pardon” rather than “forgiven,” the  “He” is portrayed as a judge. This legal gloss is reinforced by the word “plea” – which is what lawyers do in court. We also have the poet making a confession: she “stole them,” whatever they are.  
We have to work hard for meaning here because the grammar is difficult and words seem to be intentionally omitted. But correctness here doesn’t matter at all. The poem was not written for publication and is certainly not among anthologized works. So just enjoy it! For fun I re-write the poem with what I’m proposing are elided words and clarifying punctuation:
I stole them from a Bee
Because of Thee.
Sweet plea,
He pardoned me!

A sweet plea to a hungry bee
The “Sweet plea” is just too close to “sweet pea” to be ignored. And sweet peas are definitely bee magnets. I propose that the poet has “stolen” some sweet peas for a friend, the “Thee,” despite the claims a busy bee had on the flowers. She made a “sweet plea” about her theft of the sweet peas to the bee, and he pardoned her. That makes the poem a fun one.
An alternate gloss would be that she has stolen the happy buzzy humming from a bee because she has plead as sweetly as possible to someone for forgiveness for something and forgiveness was granted. But I think the word play on a courtroom scene as well as the sweet plea/sweet pea twist suggest a light-hearted poem rather than a small melodrama.
            I enjoy some of the poetic techniques. The first line trots off in a nice iambic trimeter. It trips off the tongue. But then things thicken up fast with a lot of adjacent accented syllables. I underline them here: BecauseThee – / Sweet plea – / He pardoned me! In addition, each line ends with a rhyme of “Bee” – reinforced by the assonance of “Sweet” in the third line. The effect is that the first line is read as a hurried whisper – a confession; the rest of the short poem must be read slowly and with emphasis as befitting a parody of great relief.


  1. I like both interpretations--the sweet plea interpretation and the pleading interpretation.

    Can't help but wonder if she also meant,

    Because, can't you see,
    please understand,
    He let me!

    So, her inner thoughts and subsequent poems stem from the bee, and the reader (or inquisitor/judge) must understand that the Bee forgives her transgression in stealing his buzzing, sting, or "existence?" for thematic or stylistic reasons.

  2. One thing I love about Dickinson is her elevation of the bee. He is the June bee of heaven, he is the suitor circling his flower, he is God himself, he is the preacher, he is the emblem of spring, and here he is the master of the meadow from whom permission/forgiveness must be granted. So, yes, I think in a way her thoughts and poems do stem from the bee.
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. The worker honey bees are all females. Only males are the drones, who have one function. So, I don't think the poem is saying the bee pardoned her. The object stolen was most likely a flower and it may reflect on how perfect a person she was, that her only transgression was taking a flower.