Would you like summer? Taste of ours –
Spices? Buy – here!
Ill! We have berries, for the parching!
Weary! Furloughs of Down!
Perplexed! Estates of Violet – Trouble ne'er looked on!
Captive! We bring Reprieve of Roses!
Fainting! Flasks of Air!
Even for Death – a Fairy medicine.
But, which is it – sir?
F272 (1862) 691
Dickinson adopts many voices in her poems, some playful, some childlike, some mystic, some tragic. Here she is a merchant hawking her wares. She has something for most of humanity’s ills and unlike our chemical, biosynthetic, surgical, and mechanical treatments today, hers involve spices, berries, down comforters, violets, roses, and fresh air. Sound good?
|Furloughs of Down, Summer, and plenty of Fresh air. Wouldn't you feel better?|
The poem was included in a letter to her dear (beloved) Samuel Bowles who was sick. In the letter, quoted from David Preest’s compendium of Dickinson verse, Emily tells Bowles that she, Sue and Vinnie are always talking about his health and wishing him well. She then includes this poem. One can imagine the sick man receiving such a letter and such a poem and envisioning three women hustling him with home-brew summer and a bowl of berries for when he is parched. Is he a captive in his room? Why, Reprieve of Roses is called for. Feeling a bit faint? How about a flask of air?
It’s all a good bit of fun – wholesome and a bit flirtatious, too, with those sexy gals (Dickinson who loved him, Sue who was very attracted to him, and as for Vinnie – who knows?) wanting him to taste their summer or rest in their “Furloughs of Down.”
Dickinson also has a bit of fun at the expense of clergymen. Even if the patient should die, they have some “Fairy medicine” that should restore the life in him. This is somewhat blasphemous, as the Puritan God, the Catholic God, and indeed most American Christian Gods of that day intended that you stay dead if you die. Further, that the “medicine” should be a nice confession followed by a blessing.
The poet finally asks the patient one pertinent question at the end: Just what is the problem, Sir? – as if his response would allow them to come up with the perfect concoction.