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06 October 2011

Pigmy seraphs—gone astray—

Pigmy seraphs—gone astray—
Velvet people from Vevay—
Belles from some lost summer day—
Bees exclusive Coterie—

Paris could not lay the fold
Belted down with Emerald—
Venice could not show a check
Of a tint so lustrous meek—
Never such an ambuscade
As of briar and leaf displayed
For my little damask maid—

I had rather wear her grace
Than an Earl's distinguished face—
I had rather dwell like her
Than be "Duke of Exeter"—
Royalty enough for me
To subdue the Bumblebee.
                                               - F96 (1859)  138

The poem starts out with a charming sketch of bumblebees: “Pigmy seraphs” – little angels who wandered into this world and into the garden rather than stay in their heavenly abode; they are also the velvet-cloaked fine folk from Lake Geneva, and a group of lovely girls drifting about the garden on a sudden day. The garden with its damask roses is a fit place for their “exclusive Coterie.”
And like a receiving princess, the rose reclines in a gown “Belted” by beautiful green sepals, the color more “lustrous” and subtle than anything painted by the Venetian masters. Indeed, the profuse foliage and flowering of the rose is an “ambuscade.” This is as nice a tribute to bees and roses as I’ve ever seen. No wonder the poet would rather live amid her greenery than the palaces of a Duke.
Damask roses
            But, ah! While Dukes and Earls can command the fealty of their subjects – indeed, order them to march to certain death in battle, the poet imagines that a truer mark of royalty than a title and castle would be to have a Bumblebee nestling in her lap, subdued by the delicious nectar – and thereby coaxed to take a little pollen along with it. It does sound like a better life, doesn’t it?
            Although written in three stanzas of unequal length, the poem is actually a series of rhymed couplets. The images are all so grand (angels, nobility, master painters, etc.) that lest the poem become too fawning, Dickinson carefully works in the words “meek” and “little.” It’s a “little damask maid” that because of the adoration of her subject bees is better off than the titled class of England.

1 comment:

  1. F96, Pigmy Seraphs, is a simple poem in praise of bumblebees. They enchant ED to a flight of fancy:

    Tiny angels who have wandered from home, velvet people from a luxurious European resort, beautiful young ladies from some lost summer day, bumblebees belong to an exclusive club. Paris could never create a dress belted with such emeralds; Venice could never show a cheek of a tint so lustrous and meek; never was there such a gorgeous ambuscade as a bumblebee ensconced in a rose. ED would rather wear the dress of a bumblebee than the face of a distinguished Earl; she would rather live like the bumble bee, than be the Duke of Exeter. ED wants no other royalty than hosting a bumblebee on a flower in her hand.

    A close inspection of ED’s two manuscripts (F96A and F96B) finds no difference between the third and fourth letter of the last word in line 7, “cheek”. Why both Johnson and Franklin ignore the obvious and insist on seeing “check” baffles me.

    Finally, my ears are old, but I hear this pattern of rhymes / slant rhymes: AAAA BBCCDDD EEFFGG, not rhymed couplets.