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22 April 2012

We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing –

We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing – 
'Tisn't all Hock – with us – 
Life has its Ale – 
But it's many a lay of the Dim Burgundy – 
We chant – for cheer – when the Wines – fail – 
Do we "get drunk"?
Ask the jolly Clovers!
Do we "beat" our "Wife"?
I – never wed – 
Bee – pledges his – in minute flagons – 
Dainty – as the tress – on her deft Head – 

While runs the Rhine – 
He and I – revel –
First – at the vat – and latest at the Vine – 
Noon – our last Cup –
"Found dead" – "of Nectar" – 
By a humming Coroner – 
In a By-Thyme!
                                                            F244 (1861)  230

Emily has a drinking buddy and he is a Bee. They live to drink and in fact the poet expects that some day they will be “Found dead” of drink by noon! This darling poem, as in “I taste a Liquor never brewed” (F207) where the poet is an “Inebriate of Air” and a “Debauchee of Dew,” celebrates the heady intoxication of being alive and in a lovely outdoors. Make no  mistake, this inebriation for Dickinson wouldn’t take place in city or town with shopkeepers and shoppers. Her inebriation has more to do with imbibing a more pure air and observing the flowers, creatures, and skies. Fortunately for Dickinson, her family could afford a large property with garden and orchard; and as a single woman Dickinson never had to give up her delights to support husband and children. Yes, she was the primary caretaker of her chronically ill and housebound mother, and her father depended on her baking and other tasks, but she was withdrawing from the social world at this time and so her spare time was all her own.
A suitably dainty flagon
            In this poem she gives her version of a drinking poem. She and her Bee buddy may live “by the quaffing” (great word!) but they don’t always get the best stuff. “Hock” is a German wine, usually understood to be from the prized Rhine regions. They don’t get that all the time, for “Life has its Ale,” or more bitter drinks. Often, however, they drink a “Dim” or past-prime Burgundy. And sometimes they don’t get anything – the “Wines – fail” – and in those occasions they boost their morale by chanting poetry.
Tresses on a bee's "deft Head"
            Then a bit of boasting: do they get drunk? You betcha: just ask those “jolly Clovers” we were just guzzling for their sweet nectar. But they are good blokes. They don’t beat their wives! Well, the poet admits, she doesn’t have one (and in this poem the poet takes on the voice of a man – more appropriate at the time for a drinking song). Thankfully, the Bee doesn’t beat his either. In fact he toasts her, raising his tiny glass. In a sudden line of lyricism, Dickinson adds that his “minute flagons” are “Dainty – as the tress – on her deft Head.” An image of  a feminine bee with golden hair comes to mind.
            As long as the Rhine wine flows, the two companions enjoy their revels. By the time noon rolls around they’ve drunk as much as they possibly could. The poet expects they’ll be found lifeless by a “humming Coronor” bee as they lie sprawled out in a bed of fragrant thyme. That last phrase is a cute pun: it implies the phrase, “Death by…,” in this case Death by Thyme nectar for the bee. The pun lies in the homonym “by Time,” for the poet. And doesn't Time eventually take us all?
            It’s a merry poem, full of fun.


  1. I agree with everything you said! And I obviously you're much more insightful than me. You suspected in the line "do we beat our wife" " I-never wed" alludes that the poet is speaking from a man's prespective, however there have also been numerous rumors/supported evidence of Emily being a lesbian/having lesbian affair with her best friend.

    1. I apologise for the messed up formatting there's some glitch in here.

    2. While all that about ED's sexuality may be true, it doesn't affect whether or not she is adopting a male persona in the poem.

    3. undoubtedly! The poem does reflect a male persona in and I agree with you on that. I was referring to the fact that if the speculations are true, that line can also be interpreted as her being casual and open about her sexuality in her poetry,which at the time she didn't knew were going to be published.

  2. What a beautiful explication and delightful thread. Could ED buffs be any closer to heaven?

    Susan K and Anonymous nail it - Maleness dominates drinking-buddy dialog, as it does here, and “her” could be Susan D: “Dainty – as the tress – on Sue’s deft Head –”.