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11 August 2011

When I count the seeds

When I count the seeds
That are sown beneath,
To bloom so, bye and bye—

When I con the people
Lain so low,
To be received as high—

When I believe the garden
Mortal shall not see—
Pick by faith its blossom
And avoid its Bee,
I can spare this summer, unreluctantly.
                                                                            - F 51 (1859)

As the poet contemplates her winter garden, thinking about all the flowers that will eventually bloom, she contemplates the similarities between seeds and souls. Like seeds, the dead are sown beneath the soil; like flowers breaking through the soil to bloom, they will emerge in Paradise, immortal.
The third stanza begins with the interesting qualifier “When.” I parse this stanza as follows: In those times when I can believe in Paradise, can by faith alone enjoy its blessings; and if I can avoid stirring up stinging doubt as I do so, then I can willingly forego this life in favor of the next. The implication is that she is not always able to avoid the Bee.
Dickinson so loved her garden and its denizens that she wasn’t always sure she wanted to trade it even for heaven—the very existence and nature of she does not seem completely sure of. 


  1. I am a bit fuzzy on, " When I con the people lain so low,to be received as high".How does the speaker con others?

    1. Ah, back in the day, 'con' meant to consider or think about.

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  4. Franklin dates ED’s manuscript as “Early 1859” presumably before the beginning of summer.

  5. Susan's last paragraph, above, got me wondering about this poem. As any gardener knows, a bucket of soil from a garden contains innumerable seeds, including both seeds of flower species from previous seasons and weed seeds that will germinate if the soil is not "cooked" (sterilized).

    Stanza 1 may be saying what every gardener knows, that it is an impossible task to count all the seeds buried in the soil because there are so many and because many seeds lie dormant for two or more winters before they germinate.

    Stanza 2 tells us that she has seen many of her friends and family buried in the ground, but for all she knows, they're still down there waiting to go to heaven. (ED never took communion or accepted Christ as her savior, a prerequisite for resurrection.)

    Stanza 3 may be ED saying facetiously "When someone convinces me that there is a garden in heaven and that I can pick a blossom without getting stung by the bee of doubt, only then would I unreluctantly give up my up-coming summer gardening season. Otherwise, forget it!

  6. never trade the garden, religion is obviously corruption of nature, like the garden of love