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02 July 2011

It's all I have to bring today—

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell. 
                                                                       - F 17 (1858)

I find this simple poem quite lovely. Structurally it's simple: hymn / ballad style of alternating tetrameter and trimeter and A B C B rhyme. Within that Dickinson does a couple of neat things. The end rhymes 'tell' and 'dwell' are enhanced by four repetitions of 'all.' This unifies the poem even beyond the three key repetitions of 'This, and my heart.'  'This, and'  is a trochee, versus the strictly iambic meter of the rest of the poem. The spoken emphasis on 'This' underscores it, and the following iamb emphasises 'heart.'  The 'this' and the heart are the most important offerings the poet brings.
     I'd like to think of the 'This' as this poem. It might also be a flower or some other small token. And perhaps it might mean her body in addition to her heart: 'All I have to bring you today is my body and my heart.' 
New England landscape
     But if we think of the gift as a poem, we have Dickinson's awareness of poetic reality: a poem embeds and encompasses a heart, fields and meadows, and even busy bees. Think of Marianne Moore's poem insisting true poems have 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them.' I think that is what Dickinson is getting at here. Platonic – ideal – bees and meadows are called into being by the poem and thereby delivered to the recipient. 
     Dickinson emphasizes her heart as well. 'I give you this poem and my heart. With them you also get fields, meadows, and bees in the clover.' As usual, Dickinson looks to nature for what is of deep value. She will not elevate a concert or building or human achievement by including them in the list of she gives to a loved one.
     The poem has a feather-light touch, however. It begins with an ironic statement: 'all' she brings is her heart and an important chunk of the natural world. 'Be sure you count,' she teases. It's a light-hearted way of saying 'look how much I love you.' 


  1. I was thinking about this poem this morning after reading it here. While I think I may be over-thinking it a bit, I've come up with some ideas that just might work.

    Beside could mean "aside" or as in "by the way" as in to denote distance from "this." Or, it could denote to be next to (physical proximity). So, the poem can be read as giving something (this) with her heart or in addition to her heart. I also like to think that "this" refers to the poem, especially as it is used repeatedly. The repetition almost implores the reader to look at the words themselves and not elsewhere.

    I can't help but wonder if the clover is meant to symbolize the cross in a way similar to what is given in "In the name of the Bee-" So, each leaf represents different elements of a whole: the poem (this), the heart (Emily's heart or emotions), and the bees (nature). Except, if you are lucky you can find a four-leaf clover. I'd like to think the fourth lucky leaf is the person who is able to sum one, meaning the person who is able to decipher "Some one and the sum could tell-" Tell what? The answer? Nah, I think she's using homonyms and word play to say "Someone who sums one of it all (the poem, her heart, and nature)" (or someone who is fully capable of receiving or unwrapping her gift) is the fourth element/leaf. So, maybe, the poem (this), her emotions (her heart), and the bees (nature and everything), are fully capable of being represented in a whole clover, but, sometimes, on rare occasions, the entire thing (the poem, her heart, nature, and someone special or the gift receiver) are in unity.

    PS I like your interpretation of this poem representing the idea that true poems have "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

  2. At first I thought you were over-thinking the poem ... but then I thought about it more. I think it quite plausible (and enriching) that Dickinson was using the clover as summation and symbol. In fact, perhaps her gift was a four-leaf clover. "Be sure you count," she says, for otherwise it might seem an ordinary clover. That's very neat!


    1. Thanks for sharing the poems and thoughts as you chronologically go through each one! I always wish I could gift someone poems as light as Emily's, but it's so difficult for something that is so seemingly easy.

      Wishing you well!

  3. Everyday I wake and open my eyes to reality is a gift. That's why it's called 'the present'. There's a living immediacy to this poem made romantic by reference to the author's heart; made physical by reference to ever present nature.

    1. Good points, and I particularly like "the present" idea.

  4. Emily Dickinson was quite fond of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her poetry. When I first read the phrase "Be sure you count," I thought this may have been a nod to Ms Browning's Sonnet 43, "How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways."

    1. I think you're right. Thanks -- I hadn't thought of it. Makes a great pairing.

  5. I also appreciate the idea of the poem itself being the "This". So, when in the end someone "counts" the gifts, i.e. 1. THIS, 2. MY HEART and 3. ALL THE BEES, a trinity is formed, which reflects the three-leaf-clover again. Maybe the poem as such was written on a leaf of clover, so it would be the signifier and the signified contemporaneously.
    But how can the bees "dwell" in the clover? Probably in a whole field of clover, or in "all the fields" and "meadows", in other words the natural environment as such is referred to. Hence, with "this" poem written on it, the persona gives away her feelings (heart), her thoughts (the poem) and her entire natural, physical environment.
    But to whom? Certainly to someone she is able to tease, someone familiar. At the beginning, when she says "It`s all" - a clear understatement, because what more could she possible give than her thoughts, feelings and physical environment? What`s missing? Well, her body, of course!
    So, the recipient gets it all, except her body.
    Which makes me think of it as a Platonic love poem, maybe addressed to her sister-in-law?

  6. I think that in this poem she is talking to God. She tells Him that He can have her heart and body and everything around her (fields and meadows), even though He created it (what logically has to mean that it is hers and that she feels responsible for it). She then repeats herself and also offers Him the bees around her.

    But that is just what I think. It may be wrong, it may be wright. But what do I know I am just a student in the 8th grade of a German school in Serbia doing his English homework an publishing it :D

    1. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment -- somehow it ended up in my Spam file, which I never check.
      She may be talking to God, but she has a very light and almost teasing tone, which is far different than the tone she uses in other poems that are more obviously about God.

  7. This love poem (Fr 17) begs Sue to forgive the anger and closing curse of "I had a guinea golden" (Fr 12), which ED camouflaged by using masculine pronouns. I cannot imagine a more convincing apology.

  8. Susan K is right, the relationship may have been more than platonic:

    “At some point during the late 1870's, Emily Dickinson wrote the following lines to her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson” (Tursi 1998).

    "Don't do such things. Your Arabian Nights unfits the
    heart for its arithmetic. .....Susan knows she is a siren
    and at a word from her Emily would forfeit righteousness."

    Full text of quoted lines is from Bianchi (1924).

    Bianchi, Martha Dickinson. 1924. The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson. Riverside Press. Cambridge, MA.

    Tursi, Renee. December 13, 1998. Two Belles of Amherst. New York Times

  9. The January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly published a commissioned poem by Christina Rossetti entitled ‘A Christmas Carol’. Stanza 5 of her 1872 poem seems to echo Lines 1-2 of ED’s 1858 ‘It's all I have to bring today’ (F17):


    “It's all I have to bring today—
    This, and my heart beside — "


    “What can I give Him, poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
    Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

    Gustav Holst set Rossetti’s poem to music in 1906 in the beloved Christmas hymn, ‘In the bleak midwinter’.

    First publication date of Dickinson’s ‘It's all I have to bring today’ was 1896, so Rossetti’s echo is probably pure coincidence, as are Rosetti’s and Dickinson's birth dates, December 5 and December 10, 1830, in London and Amherst.

    There is no evidence that ED gave the poem to Susan D, but if she did it would be a keeper.

  10. I have come to realize "bees" are pleasure, and clover fields the place where pleasure takes place, a very much loved place. Considering her father and brother abused her, this is pure psychological and emotional struggle for survival and rebellion, set in motion by love. Love moves mountains, and saves us from terror.