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03 March 2012

With thee, in the Desert –

With thee, in the Desert –
With thee in the thirst –
With thee in the Tamarind wood –
Leopard breathes – at last!
                                                - F201  (1861)  209

The poet takes us here to the exotic lands of North Africa where leopards roam and take shade under a Tamarind tree. The land is parched and the narrator and her companion have journeyed through the desert and are thirsty. But in addition to offering shade, the tamarind tree also bears fruit from which a refreshing citrus-like juice can be made.
            The leopard seems to represent  love that has found a way to bloom after enduring hard and stifling times. It is still in the desert, but at least for the moment there is a bit of breathing space.
Tamarind tree
by Sita Ram
            The three repetitions of “With thee” lend the poem an almost song-like quality that seems lifted from such romantic tales as The Arabian Nights where hardships must be endured and where lovers are sometimes turned into animals or mystical creatures by some Djinn. Use of “thee” rather than “you” also contribute to the magical tale quality. The leopard almost leaps out of the poem it is so unexpected and strong. The word “breathes” has the drawn-out quality of breath, particularly a breath taken after breathing has been difficult.
            It’s an effective poem, more so because of its air of  exotic mystery.


  1. Is the leopard actuall the Leopard moth, that hatches out from the wood of the Tamarind tree?

    1. I had never heard of this moth. Very likely that Dickinson had. I think she had an actual leopard in mind not only because it works better with the tone and imagery but because she identifies as a leopard in a subsequent poem in the same year. Thanks for the info!

  2. I think that this poem is exactly why I love reading Dickinson. All interpretations of a tasteful nature are welcome. The leopard contains all the eroticism that the poet will allow herself to address in verse.

    1. Ditto. I enjoy the balance of power, tension and child like playfulness

  3. Jeremiah 13:23, “Can …… the leopard its spots?”

    In F201, ‘With thee, in the Desert’, and in F276, ‘Civilization – spurns – the Leopard!’, ED refers to a leopard. Guesses of its metaphorical identity abound, from “love” (above), to “some persona of the poet” (F276 explication), to “Emily” herself (Preest, F201 & F276). My hunch is that Susan D is the leopard.

    ED’s poems and letters and many scholarly publications have firmly established that Shakespeare’s depiction of Antony and Cleopatra became ED and Sue’s go-to metaphor for their relationship, especially during its early lesbian years. ED was lovesick Antony and “siren” Sue was Cleopatra, the irresistibly attractive eastern Queen of Egypt.

    Leopards, like Cleopatra, are native to Africa and Asia and irresistibly attractive. In both F201 and F276, ED dreams that, like a leopard’s spots, Susan will be unable to change her true lesbian sexuality, and, after the two of them have traveled through “Desert, thirst, and Tamarind wood”, the leopard will “at last” be able to “breathe” its natural way.