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20 December 2011

Like her the Saints retire

Like her the Saints retire,
In their Chapeaux of fire,
Martial as she!

Like her the Evenings steal
Purple and Cochineal
After the Day!

"Departed" – both – they say!
i.e. gathered away,
Not found,

Argues the Aster still –
Reasons the Daffodil
                                               - F150 (1860)  60

A puzzle poem! It puzzled me for quite a while. I have a guess but it’s likely wrong. Anyway, here goes.
The “Saints retire” to heaven in bright yellow haloes after they go to heaven and they are as martial as the poem’s subject (and that may be a backhanded way of saying they are not martial at all). So the subject has some yellow or gold, fiery and martial in some way. Sunsets can be red and purple before they disappear, so the subject should also be red and purple and disappear in some sense after sunset. The third stanza is a bit of a stumper. I take it to mean, however, that both the saints and evenings have been “gathered away” where they can’t be found. (I like the academic-legalese of the “i.e.” – she might have said “to wit”!).
            The stodgy Aster is “still” and cannot disappear but certainly can argue about it with the deep and profound Daffodil – who is profound because his bulb is so deep in the ground! Funny.
            Anyway, with reservations I’m voting for the tulip or crocus. Both flowers close up at evening, their pretty faces disappearing. Both can be flame-colored or sunset colored. They are certainly not martial (or at least as martial as Saints). And while the Aster and Daffodil while away the night talking about where the Saints go after death, or where “Evenings steal” away (remember poem, 149 that was asking where Morning lies?), the little day flower is wrapped up and tucked away in sleep.
            I wish I could have said Gladiolus as that flower is sometimes called the Sword Lily, but Glads don’t close for the night.
            Some might say the answer is the sun, but that seems wrong because of the second stanza: the evenings can’t be like the sun… no, just can’t. 


  1. A guess at the puzzle: Like the Daffodil the Saints retire...
    Like the Aster the evenings steal...

    1. Tulips may appear martial, standing up straight on their tall stems in numbers like a regiment. Here are the last line of "Some Rainbow - coming from the fair"

      Without Commander! Countless! Still!
      The Regiments of Wood and Hill
      In bright detachment stand!
      Behold! Whose Multitudes are these?
      The children of whose turbaned seas—
      Or what Circassian Land?

      Tulips is a good bet.

  2. Maybe this is too simplistic, but is she talking about a woman who has passed away ("departed" like the Saints and evenings) who was peaceful ("martial" as the Saints)? Asters are purple (like evenings) and daffodils are yellow and red (like the Saints) -- and still here ("argu[ing]," "reason[ing]") and not "departed" as "they say!" Suggests that "they" are wrong, as the subject is "profound," as opposed to "not found" (i.e. "departed"). Maybe Dickinson is trying to say that the subject of the poem is dead but not departed.

    This also reminds me of Dickinson's other poem "Will there really be a 'morning'," in which she cannot find anyone to tell her "where the place called "morning" lies" -- i.e. where it can be found. Like morning, evening can't be "found" in a specific location, but must exist nonetheless because there is "such a thing as 'Day'." Like evening, the subject of this poem exists even if she can't be "found" in the everyday sense.

    1. That's intriguing and I follow your argument, but I think it unlikely the poem refers to a deceased woman. Such a woman, if Christian, would be a "Saint" in Dickinson's parlance. Dickinson also is very specific about the grave -- a very physical space where the dead wait (seemingly forever) for resurrection. No, I can't explain the contradiction between the two concepts!

      Anyway, as I reread this poem I still see another flower, and I think the tulip is a reasonable choice, that has been, like the Saints and the daylight, "gathered away." Perhaps Dickinson had picked some tulips for a friend and then imagined the left-behind asters and daffodils involved in deep discussions about the meaning of it all.

  3. The ”she / her” of ‘Like her the Saints retire’ has left a lot of puzzled people.

    Perhaps tulips stand in martial files in gardens, but they are not native to the U.S. so could not be “The Regiments of Wood and Hill / In bright detachment stand!”.

    To my knowledge after a Google search, no one has ever proposed a convincing ID.

    Surely, ED’s smiling somewhere:

    “The Riddle we can guess
    We speedily despise -
    Not anything is stale so long
    As Yesterday's surprise –“

    F1180, 1870