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01 July 2011

She slept beneath a tree—

She slept beneath a tree—
Remembered but by me.
I touched her Cradle mute—
She recognized the foot—
Put on her carmine suit
And see!
                                                      - F 15 (1858)

Ah, a puzzle poem. Let's go: sleeping beneath a tree? a corpse or a dormant plant. Remembered but by me? Okay, someone / something noticed very little by others. I touched her Cradle mute? Maybe a coffin for a baby? Or a bulb--a bulb is like a cradle for a lily or tulip. She recognized the foot? That's Dickinsonian invention, this innate conversation between Emily and the natural world--or is it that the baby recognizes the foot. Put on her carmine suit? Well, not the baby, then. A red-flowered bulb. 
Beautiful red tulips in spring
     I'm betting on a tulip. And so the simple little poem is a sketch of spring when the tulip dresses in red. The rhyme scheme couldn't be simpler: A A B B B A. I particularly like the slant rhymes of 'mute,' 'foot,' and 'suit.'


  1. very illuminating interpretation

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  3. ED gives us lots of hints but gives them slant. Line 1 tells us that the mystery thing sleeps beneath a tree, so Susan’s guess of a corpse or dormant plant is a good start, but then Line 2 adds that only the speaker knows the location, which rules out a graveyard or a domestic perennial beneath a tree in a yard. Lines 3-4 also support the dormant plant hypothesis because the speaker would avoid stepping on a grave. Finally, we learn the flower has a carmine flower. Hmmm, a perennial plant that grows beneath a tree but not a domestic plant.

    Many years of wandering in eastern woods suggest two possibilities. If the soil is usually moist, such as a low forest near a creek, it’s probably a cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, a crimson-flowered species in the bellflower family that is a relatively common in Massachusetts. If the soil is usually dry, such as a rocky slope with scattered trees, it may be a fire pink, Silene virginica, a wildflower also common in eastern US forests and known for its brilliant red flowers.