Like Flowers, that heard the news of Dews,
But never deemed the dripping prize
Awaited their—low Brows—
Or Bees—that thought the Summer's name
Some rumor of Delirium,
No Summer—could—for Them—
Or Arctic Creatures, dimly stirred—
By Tropic Hint—some Travelled Bird
Imported to the Wood—
Or Wind's bright signal to the Ear—
Making that homely, and severe,
Contented, known, before—
The Heaven—unexpected come,
To Lives that thought the Worshipping
A too presumptuous Psalm –
F361 (1862) 513
Some folks just don’t believe they are worthy of honors, love, or even heaven. They are like those flowers that have heard, but dismissed as not for them, talk of dew—the delicious water that wonderfully condenses overnight, dripping down to the soil as the sun heats the morning. They are like the bees that never believe in summer. That “delirium” of nectar and warm sun and welcoming flowers? Not for them. Must be for some other bees.
Those seemingly unworthy folks are also like creatures way up in the Arctic who are “dimly stirred” by what they heard from some travelling bird about the rich and beautiful forests of the temperate latitudes. Such a paradise is not for me, they sigh. I belong in the frigid and wind-swept northern climes.
What would these humble folks do, should Heaven “unexpected come” to them? That’s the “Wind’s bright signal to the Ear”: Heaven is coming—to you! What a powerful joy—perhaps overwhelming. The person to whom the wind might signal the approach of heaven had been so modest and humble that even the idea of worship seemed too presumptuous, a psalm that might be rejected.
The poem is a tribute to those unexpected moments of grace that come unbidden and unexpected to even the least of us (or perhaps particularly to the least of us). Dickinson, who didn’t stand up in church or community to claim her Christian salvation, who refrained from church going—did she harbor the idea that worship was presumptuous? It seems consistent with other poems she had written to date. At times she looks at heaven as a teasing and elusive bee, the apple just out of reach, or the circus tent that packs up and leaves overnight. In poems such as “As Watchers hang upon the East,” she thinks of heaven as that desired place where beggars can “revel at a feast.” In “I can’t tell you—but you feel it,” she senses heaven but feels it best to be “Modest,” and suggests that she and the reader “walk among it / With our faces veiled / As they say polite Archangels / Do in meeting God!”Such modesty is the subject of this poem. Know hope!