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28 August 2011

Some things that fly there be—

Some things that fly there be—
Birds—Hours—the Bumblebee—
Of these no Elegy.

Some things that stay there be—
Nor this behooveth me.

There are that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the Riddle lies!
                                          - F68 (1859)

Dickinson rhymes Bumblebee with Elegy, be, Eternity, and me.  Super! Especially linking the busy buzzing bumblebee with Eternity—but then in earlier poems we have seen the Bumblebee stand in for God. God, the busy bee.
     The poem is simply constructed: three stanzas of three lines each,  and with just two exceptions each line in trimeter. Reminds one of the Trinity, no? And indeed, the mysteries of the heavens are the point of the poem.
            The first stanza informs us that the poet won’t be writing about things that fly—and notice that there is a triplet of items listed, one abstract and two concrete nouns. The second stanza says she won’t be writing about ‘things that stay’ – and again a triplet list. Joy and Love don’t make the list; Dickinson chooses “Grief” for the emotion that, like Hills and Eternity, stay.
            The third stanza doesn’t give us much help either as she mentions the Resurrection (those ‘resting’ in the grave shall rise), but then says she can’t explain it. It is a Riddle and a very very quiet one at that.
            As to the two lines not in trimeter: those are the two list lines. Both begin with spondees and caesaras (two accented syllables interrupted and followed by a pause) and conclude with feminine endings that linger on the tongue. In fact, the line that follows each list line ends in two unaccented syllables – a pyrrhic foot. This strengthens the rhyme with the line before.


  1. How still the Riddle lies!

    Instead, could be read as temporally this Riddle is not telling us the truth. The riddle could be the poem or the place where "there" might be. I the poem is teasing the reader (or even the writer) that sometimes there aren't answers. Readers might think is "there" earth, heaven, life, death, or other place, and for each scenario give each of the three associated words (birds, hours, the bumblebee or grief, hill, eternity) different meanings: for example, grief is a lost one (in death), or that the hours fly to death (but we cannot offer our own elegy). But, "How still the Riddle lies," could mean that ED is asking the reader that all these scenarios might just not work or be complete (and hence lie). If one accepts this scenario, it works also with the second meaning of the line "How still the Riddle lies," ie the present Riddle lies dormant in our hands with an incomplete answer. It lies "Blowing in the wind..."

    1. Thanks for commenting on this poem. Re-reading it after having addressed a few hundred more, I see it in more richness -- which you bring up. It does seem as if the poet feels teased by life and what lies beyond life. (And I, too, think, as you mention below, that she spent time looking up or out the window contemplating and associating.)

  2. I imagine ED looking into the clouds, positing different figures for each passing cloud, and then thinking "nah none of them work."

  3. There’s no need to write an elegy for the things that fly away.
    There’s no need to write an elegy for things that stay.
    I totally didn’t see the Resurrection in the last line — but that surely fits!
    What do you think:
    Does “there be” mean exist/are, or does it mean “are there” (in that place)? So rather than “there are things that fly,” it would instead mean, “things that fly are in that place (there).”

    1. On rereading the poem I think I see a poet's inclination: she doesn't want to write elegiacs for the flying things (but she does, at least for hours); it doesn't suit her to write about the things that stay (although she does, of course), and as for the things that may rise up -- can she expound on that, the Riddle being so opaque? (and of course she does).

      I don't thing the 'are there' verbiages are locational. While location works well for the first stanza it doesn't work so well for the next two.

      thanks for commenting on this poem -- It is so early in her work that I'd forgotten it -- and I really like it.

    2. Thanks a lot for your reply, Susan. That makes sense about the lack of locational aspects in the lists she gives. I guess I was trying to make a literal riddle out of the poem, and trying to figure out a different way of reading it.

      And I just noticed how “fly” equals “rise,” and “stay” equals “rest[ing].”
      So the third stanza has the mystery of a combination of the two!

      I’m very much a juvenile poetry reader, so I really appreciate reading your insights, which help me see more deeply into the poem and its layers of meaning.

  4. Stanza 3: ED knows the dead are in the grave, and both her Bible and her minister tell her their souls rise from the grave, but she can’t understand the process (in fact never took communion or accepted Christ as her savior). The last line could mean that she has no evidence for resurrection, which was an honest and courageous thing to say, especially in 1859 New England.

  5. Larry is correct. So much of Dickinson’s poetry comments ironically, sometimes snidely (as here) on the fact that the conventional religious explanations of her day are inadequate. But what replaces the transcendence of rising souls is the transcendent understanding of the human intellect, embodied in Dickinson’s genius, still speaking to us today