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02 March 2012

The Rose did caper on her cheek –

The Rose did caper on her cheek –

Her Bodice rose and fell –
Her pretty speech – like drunken men –
Did stagger pitiful –

Her fingers fumbled at her work –
Her needle would not go –
What ailed so smart a little Maid –
It puzzled me to know –

Till opposite – I spied a cheek
That bore another Rose –
Just opposite – Another speech
That like the Drunkard goes –

A Vest that like her Bodice, danced –
To the immortal tune –
Till those two troubled – little Clocks
Ticked softly into one.
                                                            - F200 (1861)   208

A pair of Victorian clocks
Ah, we’ve all seen the lovers among us. The blushing cheeks, the sharpened breath, the stammering inability to put together a coherent sentence – all dead giveaways. The poet here is a sly observer watching a young couple. The “smart” young woman keeps messing up her embroidery and her normal “pretty speech” sounds as if she’s put down a few two many elderberry wines. The young man is in no better shape: he, too, sounds as if he’s been belting down a few brandies. His vest and her bodice are dancing “to the immortal tune” of love as they breathe more quickly and deeply than usual. But then something clicks and the two “little Clocks / ticked softly into one.” It’s a lovely closing image: two clocks ticking a little off kilter but then finally in synch. Dickinson inserts the word “softly” here and it makes everything right. The couple is meant for each other, their internal workings effortlessly blend into one, just as the two will blend as one when they marry.
            This pretty poem is full of movement as if it, too, dances “To the immortal tune.” The rose capers, the girl’s dress rises and falls while the boy’s vest dances. Her speech staggers and her fingers fumble. Even the clocks image implies a cheerful movement even as the two tick into one.
Dickinson writes in tradition ballad or hymn form: four line stanzas with alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines and the second and fourth lines rhyming. 


  1. A rose capering on a cheek is a very interesting imagery. I wonder if there's any more subtext to that, or does it only smybolise the rose-coloured blush on their cheeks.

    1. I'd love to have you expand on your thoughts on this!

  2. First love, immortal tune, ticking softly into one, could anyone sing lovelier than this?