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03 May 2012

A Mien to move a Queen –

A Mien to move a Queen – 
Half Child – Half Heroine – 
An Orleans in the Eye
That puts its manner by
For humbler Company
When none are near
Even a Tear – 
Its frequent Visitor – 

A Bonnet like a Duke – 
And yet a Wren's Peruke
Were not so shy
Of Goer by – 
And Hands – so slight,
They would elate a Sprite
With merriment – 

A Voice that alters – Low
And on the Ear can go
Like Let of Snow – 
Or shift supreme – 
As tone of Realm
On Subjects Diadem – 
Too small – to fear – 
Too distant – to endear – 
And so Men Compromise –
And just – revere –
                                                            F254 (1861)  283

The proud Duke of Orleans
and his "bonnet" 
This sprightly poem celebrates a woman of many faces and moods. She can adopt an appearance and manner that would “move a Queen,” behave with the noble pride of the Duke of Orleans – and with his “Bonnet” or crown as well. On the other hand, she is “Half Child” and is just as easy among common folk as she is among the gentry. She can be shyer about her appearance than the wren with it’s humble peruke, or wig. Her hands are so tiny that a fairy would laugh at them.
            We are also told that this quixotic creature cries when alone – and frequently, too.
            Her voice is supple: she can be low and musically hushed as a snowfall or else as bold and strong as a ruler speaking on royal matters to his people. She is “Too small – to fear” yet too remote, “Too distant – to endear” herself to people. She is stuck in some odd place: people neither fear her nor have warm affection for her. Instead she is revered – which is a distant sort of admiring respect.
          Who is this person? Could it be one of Dickinson’s friends? Could it be Dickinson herself? We know she considered herself humble and small. We also know that she harbored ideas about her inner royalty and divine gift of poetry.
            I think she is writing a poem about herself, mainly because of the very light tone. The rhymes border on the humorous: Queen with Heroine; Tear with Visitor; Duke with Peruke. The images are lightly cast as well: Heroine, Duke, Wren, Child. It’s a rather charming portrait, no matter who the subject is. I don’t think the poetry is worth studying except for the potential insight into the poet’s self image.


  1. I agree, I think this is a poem about Emily Dickinson. "Small like the wren" was she, and yet so bold. She knew she was immortal.

    I love your blog. I always check it after finding one of her poems and reflecting on it first myself. Sometimes you help me understand, and sometimes you validate. Thank you!

    1. thanks, Ellen! I only have about a thousand more poems to go...

  2. Would her self-regard support the last line of this poem? Or is she just being ironically playful? I'm starting to miss the bees and leopards!

    1. Playful, I would think, with some poignancy. Imagine having or needing a persona that is revered rather than being endearing -- especially if love is what you want.

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  3. My first association when I read "Orleans" was with Joan of Arc nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" - by the way, also "Half Child – Half Heroine"...

  4. Another possibility I see is a songbird, perhaps a Mourning Dove ("even a tear) or Cardinal (a bonnet), or something along those lines. Did Emily ever identify herself as a bird?

    1. So, a bird or person more shy than herself? I also like the Joan of Arc idea, but then I'm confused about the bonnet like a duke.

  5. ED astonished Higginson the first time they met, August 17, 1870, when she was 39. She came down the stairs speaking in the voice of a shy little girl, and then, as he wrote his wife, exhausted him with a constant stream of consciousness. He just sat and listened.

    The poem has a veneer of playfulness, but underlying sadness pervades the ends of Stanzas 1 & 3:

    “When none are near
    Even a Tear –
    Its frequent Visitor”

    “Too small – to fear –
    Too distant – to endear –
    And so Men Compromise –
    And just – revere –“.