The Sun does not allow
Caprices of the Atmosphere —
And even when the Snow
Heaves Balls of Specks, like Vicious Boy
Directly in His Eye —
Does not so much as turn His Head
Busy with Majesty —
'Tis His to stimulate the Earth —
And magnetize the Sea —
And bind Astronomy, in place,
Yet Any passing by
Would deem Ourselves — the busier
As the minutest Bee
That rides — emits a Thunder —
A Bomb — to justify —
F622 (1863) J591
Dickinson contrasts humans, by way of bees, with the serene majesty of the sun. She also takes aim, I think, at the saccharine platitudes of Isaac Watts' poem "How Doth the Little Busy Bee", published in 1715, and popular during Dickinson's time (and beyond).
The first two stanzas describe the sun's imperturbability. Like the U.S. Post Office motto, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail – nor any other "Caprices of the Atmosphere" –will interrupt his business. The stately third stanza describes this business as stimulating the earth to be fruitful, magnetizing the Sea (I'm not sure about what this might mean: the basaltic ocean floor is magnetized but that is geologic rather than astronomic), and binding Astronomy – probably meaning binding earth to the sun's progression through the galaxy.
Those are big jobs! Nonetheless, to any passing extraterrestrial observer it would seem that humans have more to do. We are like the tiniest bees whose efforts to gather nectar involves an inordinate amount of buzzing – a "Thunder", Dickinson calls it, as if such a commotion will 'justify' its constant bustling about.
The bees' Thunder allows an amazing segue to "Bomb" in the last line. But while bees' thunder indicates their passage among flowerbeds, human's thunder, their bombs, indicates their rush to destroy. And so it was in 1863 while Dickinson was writing this poem. Battles at Vicksburg, Gettsburg, Chickamauga, and Stones River – just to list a few that occurred that year – had nearly 130,000 casualties.
|Bombardment of Fort Sumter by Currier & Ives|
Now, as to Watts' poem about the "Little Busy Bee". The first two stanzas praise the bee who is industrious, skilful, and neat. Such attributes "Improve each shining hour". The last two stanzas find the poet wanting to emulate the bee for two reasons: to lead a good life and to stay busy so that the Devil can't make use of his 'idle hands'.
I imagine Dickinson reading this poem and finding it deeply ironic. Most of her countrymen were exposed to this poem. Many of them spent their childhoods "In books, or work, or healthful play" and later strove to be busy in 'works of labor or of skill'. And yet rather than a society like the humming hive, they found no way out of their deep divisions except by busily building and employing the engines of war.
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
Isaac Watts, 1715