A delightful proto-feminist poem, Dickinson is wondering why there are sexual double standards for men versus women. The lovely harebell has perhaps loosened her girdle (“belt” we would say today) to that rogue lover Bee (lucky insect – he gets to stand in for God sometimes, too). The Big Question is: Will he still respect her in the morning? Dickinson selects the word “hallow” – even italicizing it for emphasis to show she really means it – to suggest a religious aspect. Marriage is a sacrament, but just a bit of fun between bees and flowers… well, maybe the Bee is right not to feel that hallow feeling. Except the reader senses this is wrong. The Bee would be quite foolish, as well as stupefyingly arrogant to feel anything other than yummy delight at the Harebell’s delicious, life-giving nectar.
But just in case the reader is too thick skulled to follow the metaphor, the poet then moves us closer to the realm of ordinary men and women. “Paradise” is of course a way of referring to that blissful refuge men might find beyond the “moat of pearl” when making love. Here the lover is an Earl (helpfully rhyming with “pearl” or else he might have been a king) and if he had successfully “persuaded” his lady love to “yield” to him, the poet wants to know if Paradise / Eden would still be the same. Or would it become, say, Paradise Lost? Or worse, the lady just some now used-goods fallen woman. But the Earl – would he, too, undergo degradation? Dickinson doesn’t even bother to answer that last question. Yes, the Earl will still be an Earl no matter how many virgins he deflowers.
The poem is a very playful and clever way of pointing out this inequity that still bedevils much of the world – and in some countries can be a life-and-death matter.
The poem also is fun to read aloud – it just trips off the tongue. The “Did the” and “Would the” doublings strengthen the metaphor and give a nursery-rhyme feel to this adult-content poem. The rhymes are fun: Bee / formerly; and pearl / Earl. The four 4-letter-word "e"s of the last two lines not only link together visually, but showcase Dickinson's gift for compaction. In both lines she uses the E word first as a specific and then as a general case. Would the Eden of this blossom still be in the category of unsullied Paradise? Would this particular Earl still belong in the category of princely nobility denoted by "Earl"?