Encounter in my garden
An unexpected Maid.
She beckons, and the woods start—
She nods, and all begin—
Surely, such a country
I was never in!
J16, Fr 66 (1859)
This poem was sent with a rosebud to a friend. It speaks of the great love Dickinson had for her garden. An early rose, a signal to the woods that Spring is here, transports her to a different place—a country she was never in before. I like the image of the young rose beckoning and the trees and woodland flowers all begin their own adornment in response.
The question in the poem lies in the first two lines. The speaker has been baffled, but only for a ‘day or two’, and she is quick to say that it isn’t fear that she also feels, but embarrassment. We aren’t told what has baffled the speaker, why she is embarrassed, or why she should specify that she isn’t afraid. Does it have something to do with the Hollands – for it was Mrs. Holland to whom the poem and bud was sent. Or does it refer to a general state of mind: the speaker feels among the trees and plants of her garden a natural reticence, akin to embarrassment, that we feel when among those we venerate but feel are above us in some way. She is baffled by the subtle changes she sees until she encounters the early rose, harbinger of Spring.
The last line is a bit awkward. Dickinson ends with a barely accented preposition employed, seemingly, in order to have something to rhyme with ‘begin’. Not a good enough excuse and not a good enough line! But it works for me that she drops the subject in the first three lines so that the first words are important verbs: “Baffled," “Embarrassed," and “Encounter." It sets up the narrative nicely: the baffled and embarrassed state of mind, the encounter with the flower, and then the second stanza begins the alteration with the flower having the joy of all the action. At the end, the speaker’s mood is one of happy wonder.