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16 January 2012

I'm the little "Heart's Ease"!

I'm the little "Heart's Ease"!
I don't care for pouting skies!
If the Butterfly delay
Can I, therefore, stay away?

If the Coward Bumble Bee
In his chimney corner stay,
I, must resoluter be!
Who'll apologize for me?

Dear, Old fashioned, little flower!
Eden is old fashioned, too!
Birds are antiquated fellows!
Heaven does not change her blue.
Nor will I, the little Heart's Ease –
Ever be induced to do!
                                                            - F 167 (1860)  176

This is a charming little conversation between the poet and one of her favorite flowers, the Hearts Ease. Author Beth Trissel has this to say about the flower:
The modern day pansies are descendants of the wild viola tricolor also called heartsease. There are many nicknames for this plant that include love-in-idleness, call-me-to-you, three-faces-under-a-hood, godfathers and godmothers, flower o’luce, banwort, jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me. We have always called the smaller violas johnny-jump-ups.
The poem begins in the voice of the wild viola who is quite cheeky! She doesn’t care about the unpredictable weather of early spring. She’s not like the butterfly and bumble bee who wait for warmer weather. But then she says, a bit coyly, I think, that since she’s just a “little” wildflower she must be resolute because no one will make any excuses for her.
            Ah, but then the poet comes to her rescue. “Dear, old-fashioned little flower,” she says. Don’t change your ways. Eden and birds and heaven are all steadfast and unchanging. And the little flower pipes up and says that she can’t be induced to change, either.
Heart's Ease Fairy
Cicely Mary Barker
            Dickinson liked to identify herself with modest wildflowers – the daisy was among her favorites – and no doubt she is thinking of herself here, too. When the rain falls on her parade and things don’t go her way, she too will just be “resoluter” and keep true to herself. Just like the Heart’s Ease.
            I particularly like the “Coward Bumble Bee” and that “Birds are antiquated fellows.” And I bet Dickinson didn’t even know that dinosaurs were distant forebears of birds – so they really are “antiquated”!
            The poem is written in two tetrameter quatrains and then a third six-line stanza. Dickinson makes use of a few slant rhymes that help keep the poem in a vernacular tone: Ease / skies; Bee / stay; and my favorite, Flower / fellows.


  1. It felt unjust not to leave a comment on this little poem. A defiant heart's ease deserves at least this much.

  2. Shakespeare used Heart’s Ease (AKA, Pansy, Love-in-Idleness) in at least three plays: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Taming of the Shrew ( ). Oberon and Puck used a concoction of Heart’s Ease to induce sleepers to fall in love with the first person (or animal) seen upon waking, with powerful comic effects. Despite its long history in folklore and medicine, the wild violet progenitor of these flowers, Viola tricolor, was not introduced to commercial horticulture until 1812 (Wikipedia,, only 47 years before ED composed this poem.