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08 March 2012

Come slowly—Eden!

Come slowly—Eden!
Lips unused to Thee—
Bashful—sip thy Jessamines—
As the fainting Bee—

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums—
Counts his nectars—
Enters—and is lost in Balms.
                                                            - F205 (1861)  211

Too much paradise too soon would be just … too much. It is not to rushed at and inhaled, nor is it to be wished that we are swooped up to heaven instantaneously. What should be bliss might turn instead to oversatiety or even fearful incomprehension.
            The poem’s tone is solemn and slow, opening with a spondee – Come slowly­ – and using long vowel sounds to stretch the line out: slowly, Eden. The second line continues the long sounds with “unused” and “Thee.” A nice rhyme of “Thee” with “Bee,” again with the long sounds,” imparts a prayerful, hymn-like quality to the stanza.
            The stanza is also quite visual. We see a bashful person – a pilgrim or someone on death’s door, or someone in ecstatic trance – verging on Eden. The vision is so intense and desirable that the pilgrim only sips bashfully at the heavenly nectar – the sweet “Jessamines” with their fragrant balm, or nectar. We are used to ordinary life, so is it any wonder that Eden might be overpowering? We then see the Bee, weak and “fainting,” and then the stanza breaks, which serves again to postpone pleasure just as the pleasure of Eden must be sipped.
Bee about to lose itself in the balm of a jasmine
(photo courtesy of Dev Wijewardane)
            The second stanza is perhaps even more visual as we see the Bee finally reaching the flower he was seeking. He doesn’t dive right in, though, even weak as he is. Instead he “hums” “Round her chamber,” taking it in and counting “his nectars” before he enters. Notice how feminine and sexualized the imagery is. The final line, in particular, where the bee “Enters – and is lost in Balms.” It’s a beautiful line and the dash gives us that hushed break as the bee enters the flowers chambers to be lost in the nourshing nectar that he so needs and desires.
  Dickinson even juxtaposes two feminine slant rhymes, “nectars – / Enters,” to subtly accentuate the ebb and flow of male and female, desire and fulfillment, thirst and blissful satiety.  I like that Dickinson’s Eden is so deeply female and that spiritual bliss is presented as an entering into and drinking of the nectar of that divine Feminine


  1. Susan, you can use the image on the blog. my only request is a reference and a link back to my blog.

  2. The second stanza could very well be much more graphic as we see the actual Bee finally attaining your flower they had been searching for.
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  3. Is it just me, or is there a sexual metaphor going on here? The first stanza from the point of view virgin female unused to sex asking to go slowly. The bashful lips sipping from the passion flower.

    The second stanza is from the point of view of the male bee who is a bit tardy coming to his love, enters her chamber and is lost in balms (aromatic sap or juice..that which heals).

    A longed for consummation of love is like entering paradise!

    1. Yes, very sexual indeed. I love the delicious sensuality of this poem. However, it might be also said that Dickinson is using a sexual metaphor for a transcendent relationship -- as if becoming deeply intimate with someone, nonsexually, is like both sexual consummation as well as the bees blissful entrance into the balms of the fragrant jasmine.

  4. The end rhyme of the poem above is?

  5. The end rhyme of the poem above is

  6. Something strange has happened, simultaneous irruption of Vesuvius and Aetna.

    Five pessimistic after pessimistic poems: F193 Broken trust, F194 Unreal marriage, F195 Lovelorn longing, F196 Chiding neediness, F197 Bearing pain.

    Suddenly, six happy poems: F198 Babbling baby lips, F199 Anticipated love, F200 First young love, F201 Rekindled love, F202 Friends sharing secrets of the heart, F203 Surging breasts.

    One relapse into wistful piety: F204 Dead children cross the stile of death.

    Finally and without warning, unprecedented incredibly frank celebration of sexual reunion: F205 Come slowly Eden! / Lips unused to thee / Bashful—sip thy Jessamines— / As the fainting Bee—.

    Dying worth waiting for…..

  7. How could anyone reading this poem think of ED as a sexless spinster? Apparently, Todd and Higginson (1890) did, along with 100 years of literary scholars. T&H entitled the poem ‘Apotheosis’ in their first published volume of ED’s poetry (1890).

    Oxford Languages Dictionary’s second (and more traditional) definition of “apotheosis” is “deification; elevation of someone to divine status”. With apologies to T&H, I prefer its more modern first definition, “culmination or climax’.

  8. Sigh … , I was sixteen going on seventeen in 1959 when The Fleetwoods released ‘Come softly, darling’, so when I read ED’s incredible antecedent, ‘Come slowly - Eden’, how can I not think of those lovely lyrics? Words in parentheses were sung solely by the women in the trio, Gretchen Christopher, and Barbara Ellis.

    Mm dooby do, dahm dahm, dahm do dahm ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm ooh dahm
    Mm dooby do

    (Come softly, darling)
    (Come softly, darling)
    (Come softly, darling)
    (Come softly, darling)

    (Come softly, darling)
    (Come to me, sta-ay)
    (You're my ob-session)
    (For ever and a da-ay)

    I want, want you to kno-o-ow
    I love, I love you so
    Please hold, hold me so tight
    All through, all through the night..

    (Speak softly, darling)
    (Hear what I sa-ay)
    (I love you always)
    (Always, always)

    I've waited, waited so long
    For your kisses and your love
    Please come, come to me
    From up, from up above

    (Come softly, darling)
    (Come softly, darling)
    I need, need you so much
    Wanna feel your wa-arm touch

    Mm dooby do, dahm dahm, dahm do dahm ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm do dahm, ooby do
    Dahm dahm, dahm ooh dahm

    1959 was an incredibly good year, sigh ….

  9. A second thought on Comment 7, Feb 7, 2023 (above):

    “How could anyone reading this poem think of ED as a sexless spinster? Apparently, Todd and Higginson (1890) did …... T&H entitled the poem ‘Apotheosis’ in their first published volume of ED’s poetry (1890).”

    By 1890, Mabel Todd and her paramour, Austin Dickinson, knew very well that ED and Sue had, as teenagers, a lesbian relationship, but when Todd published ED’s poems and letters, she (and Austin) did everything they could to hide the truth from the world. One, or both, erased ED’s signatures on poems to Sue, censored letters and poems that they did publish, and, apparently, kept Higginson in the dark.

    It was bad enough that their affair was common knowledge among Amherst gossips, but admitting the Dickinson 'Homestead' and 'Evergreens' harbored two homosexuals would have devastated Austin’s reputation among legal clients and competing law firms.

    For the next 100 years, most ED scholars and readers bought into their scenario.