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08 October 2011

South winds jostle them—

South winds jostle them—
Bumblebees come—
Drink, and are gone—

Butterflies pause
On their passage Cashmere—
I—softly plucking,
Present them here!
                                         - F 98 (1859)  86

This is a lovely poem to accompany flowers, which it seems this was written to do. We begin reading it as a puzzle, but we soon deduce that the subject of the poem is flowers. The first stanza paints a little scene—with surprising economy: The flowers are fluttering in a breeze; bumblebees flit about hovering and hesitating over the various blossoms until they find the nectar they are looking for. Once satiated and pollen-laden, they fly off.
            The second stanza brings butterflies that have migrated all the way from “Cashmere” – and this exotic and distant location has the added advantage of its name implying a softness that the butterflies might experience in the soft fabric of summer air, or the soft breath of their wings stir up. This idea is reinforced by Dickinson’s use of the word “softly” in the following line. The poet softly plucks the flower to present. She’s not going to rip them out of the earth.
            Still, it is a bit wrenching, the pulling up of the nodding flowers amid their bees and butterflies. I think that Dickinson is writing on a deeper level about poetry. There in the garden with its breezes, bees, and butterflies (Dickinson’s oft-used “B” trilogy), are poems waiting to be plucked. And we’ve seen that in quite a few of the poems before this #98 – poems pulled out of the garden as if organically peopled by the jays and bobolinks and bees. The poet plucks them, writes them down, and presents them to us, the reader.


  1. Thanks for that double take of Cashmere insight. And softly plucking here could double for plucking a lyre to accompany the lyric too. The song as a flower. Poesy. And by including all of the world of the flower, the poem describes the flower that it itself is: south winds jostle, just like southern climates entice us, bees (shorthand for lovers?) hover, hesitate (wonderful onomatopoeia) and then drink up the poet and poem. (Is that us?) Even cashmere butterflies all the way from Cashmere visit and are visited here.

    1. Thank you - lovely reading. I particularly like the onomatopoeia you point out. And the lyre plucking.

  2. ED would never sell a flower (F92), only loan them out until daffodils bloom, but daffodils are the first flowers to bloom. In other words, she isn’t going to loan them either. However, she will gladly pick her flowers and give them to those who care.

    She will not publish poems either, for money or for fame, but if you really care to read them, she will share them freely, as she did with three copies of this poem and bouquets to Sue's brother, Thomas Dwight Gilbert in 1859; her cousins, Louise and Frances Norcross in 1859; and her mentor,T. W. Higginsonin 1862.