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31 August 2011

My friend must be a Bird

My friend must be a Bird—
Because it flies!
Mortal, my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a Bee!
Ah, curious friend!
Thou puzzlest me!
                                      - F 71 (1859)  92

On the face of it the poet is talking to a mysterious animal friend. It flies like a bird, it dies like a mortal being, but it has stinging barbs. But no one believes Dickinson is writing about an odd animal. Consensus has it that she is describing her dear friend and sister-in-law Sue. Sue flies away at the drop of a hat, loving to take vacations and travel. She was known to occasionally lance someone with her tongue, although in Dickinson’s case such ‘Barbs’ might have been rather mild as Dickinson was particularly sensitive to Sue’s words and deeds.
It doesn’t seem like a healthy friendship when one friend is perceived as stinging the other and the stung one then writes immortal poetry about it. Take it as a warning when having a writer as a friend!
Thy rhyme seems a bit lazy: the word ‘friend’ is repeated, and “Bee” is cleverly rhymed with ‘be.” And the idea that the friend is mortal because ‘it’ dies is rather weak as unless the friend is dying, how does the poet know? If the poet assumes the ‘friend’ is mortal, then why point out that it dies? I think the poem was written in order to point out the Barbs. 

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