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25 July 2011

By Chivalries as tiny

By Chivalries as tiny,
A Blossom, or a Book,
The seeds of smiles are planted –
Which blossom in the dark. 
                                                                         - F 37 (1858)

Haven't we all had the lovely feeling of lying in bed thinking of a little gift or thoughtful gesture from a special someone? One hopes at such times that the little gift was meant to imply some special feelings or relationship, and thus the Blossom blossoms.
            By use of the word "Chivalries" we are led to think of the gifts as coming from a man. But the poet can't effuse to the giver. Instead she accepts the gift – -perhaps it is given to her by another hand or through the post – and only allows the smile to bloom when she is alone at night in her room.
            Both flowers and books are fraught with meaning. Victorians had a whole language of flowers, so whether the blossom were a daisy or a rose or a common dandelion, the recipient would know the intended meaning. Likewise, a book of romantic verse or a handbook of exotic garden plants would each communicate something unique. The 'Chivalries', therefore, while symbolic are hardly 'tiny'.
             I like the idea of planting the seeds of smiles. I'm reminded that often a thoughtful gesture isn't responded to--not overtly, anyway. But perhaps the seed of a smile has been planted, and knowing that is quite good enough.
            Now that I say that, I'm reminded that Dickinson herself was a giver of such gifts. She famously enclosed flowers in letters, and often sent baskets to those in need of cheer. Perhaps this poem was also her insight into the value of her 'tiny' gifts.


  1. I do agree that the noun 'Chivalries' strongly suggests that the gifts of either nature/flowers ('Blossom'), or art ('Book'), are being sent to the implied recipient by a male admirer. I also feel that the implied recipient can be regarded as coquettishly coy, with her smile blossoming only behind closed doors or at bedtime, away from her admirer's eyes. This gives us the sense that the latter is playfully unaware of the full amplitude of the recipient's fondness for him. The imagery of the initial seed and subsequent blossoming of the smile also perhaps suggests a love that may grow or become stronger through time.

    It's interesting to note that the word 'Blossom' is used as a noun in line 2 to describe the gift from the admirer, and then becomes a verb in line 4 to describe the recipient's pleasure derived from the gift. This correspondence of noun and verb gives us a sense of the direct, albeit discreet, emotional impact that the very small gesture, the giving of an object, has on the recipient.

    The connotations of sowing and fertility evoked by the imagery in lines 3 and 4 are relevant given the implied femininity of the recipient. And unlike an actual seed which could not blossom in the dark due to an essential lack of light, the smile of a human has the potential to spark under any circumstance, at the whim of the human self.

  2. A gift as tiny as a kind word from someone we value may bring smiles to our face many times for the rest of our lives. That seed is beyond measurement.