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01 September 2011

Angels, in the early morning

Angels, in the early morning
May be seen the Dews among,
Do the Buds to them belong?

Angels, when the sun is hottest
May be seen the sands among,
Parched the flowers they bear along.
                                                                        - F 73 (1859)  94

The poem seems unfinished to me. We have the protecting Angels in the Dews of morning smilingly flying along with their little charges. Perhaps the tykes were in trouble and needed a boost. The Angels enjoy this duty and stoop to pick them up with a smile. But of course, the day is fresh and the buds are so young and lovely.
            In a reprise, the Angels are still at work at the hottest part of the day and here they are in the sands. The flowers don’t do so well there and are parched. We can read this as some people’s lives taking a turn for the worse. They are not in an environment where they can thrive and they aren’t getting the nourishing water they need. The Angels still help them, plucking them and bearing them up. But this time they sigh rather than smile. This task isn’t nearly so enjoyable for them.
          What seems missing to me is a third stanza where the sun is setting and the petals are about to fall but the Angels come and gather up the remains of the flower. In this stanza, instead of "smiling" or "sighing" the Angels might be nodding. Of course, poetically that doesn't continue the "s" sound and the long "i" sound--so maybe that's why Dickinson only has two stanzas. She couldn't think of a good third critical verb to follow 'plucking'.

            Another way of reading this, besides as our guardian angels always being there for us, is as Angels coming for the souls of the newly dead. The poet notes them plucking the little souls and asks, sadly I think, if the Buds are really theirs to pluck. Surely they should still belong to their parents. And in the second stanza they must collect the souls of those who wandered into the desert of life and died of thirst. The angels sigh for they know these poor souls may not make it to Paradise.
            This reading makes more sense to me but it is a bit macabre to think of Angels going out on their morning rounds and smiling as they find the little tots who have died. And of course no one likes to think of the poor parched souls who have very little to look forward to.
            I like the trochees of the third lines of the stanzas: the emphasis on the first syllable lend an extra action to the words so that you can readily visualize the angels “Stooping—plucking—sighing/smiling—flying.”


  1. I really liked your interpretation of this poem, and of others as well!
    I've been reading and writing down allnof Emily Dickinson's poems, as a way to improve my interpretation in English, and you've been helping me a lot, so thank you!

  2. I like your idea of a third stanza here, but I think what would be lost, perhaps, is the stark contrast between the two stanzas, that contrast between sighing and smiling. As I read it, the angels enjoy their work, when they can, but still do the work when its hot and difficult, sighing, but doing it (I think of nurses here, for personal reasons). For me the order is important. It's because they can do it so happily in the dewy morning that they can endure in the hot desert.

    As for wondering if the buds really belong to them, I think of those earlier Dickinson poems about picking flowers as a kind of crime. Maybe picking flowers has something to do with stealing beauty, which, should belong to everyone. The angels are bringing them SOMEWHERE though, like Emily bringing her poems.

  3. In 1859 Amherst a lot of babies were born and a lot of people died. ED celebrated the births (buds) and grieved the deaths (parched flowers). In this poem a day is the elapsed time, and for a person's life birth to death is the elapsed time, but the poet sees these times analogously. Perhaps the death of her long-time gardener on August 16, 1859, induced the birth of this poem. “Old Amos” Newport (L49) was a grandson of Amos Newport, who was captured in Africa in 1715 at about age 10, transported to Newport, and sold to a farmer who lived near Amherst. “Old Amos” died at 84 and his grave lies a few yards northeast of ED’s in West Cemetery. Slavery was never outlawed by the State of Massachusetts, but, for many reasons, it gradually ended about 1800.