Search This Blog

10 November 2012

I envy Seas, whereon He rides—

I envy Seas, whereon He rides—
I envy Spokes of Wheels
Of Chariots, that Him convey—
I envy Crooked Hills

That gaze upon His journey—
How easy All can see
What is forbidden utterly
As Heaven—unto me!

I envy Nests of Sparrows—
That dot His distant Eaves—
The wealthy Fly, upon His Pane—
The happy—happy Leaves—

That just abroad His Window
Have Summer's leave to play—
The Ear Rings of Pizarro
Could not obtain for me—

I envy Light—that wakes Him—
And Bells—that boldly ring
To tell Him it is Noon, abroad—
Myself—be Noon to Him—

Yet interdict—my Blossom—
And abrogate—my Bee—
Lest Noon in Everlasting Night—
Drop Gabriel—and Me –
                                                                                          F368 (1862)  498

It's not very clear if Pizarro is wearing
an earring here or not
My favourite part of this love poem is where the speaker complains that even “The Ear Rings of Pizarro” couldn’t buy her the access to her lover that the “happy—happy Leaves” have. Double points for the leaves/leaves wordplay as the leaves have “leave to play.” No doubt “Pizarro” was chosen with an eye to rhyming with “Window”—and that is just grandly bizarro!

            The entire poem is brimming with love. The poet envies everything that her lover touches or that even is near him. Even a common fly on his window pane is “wealthy” because of its proximity to the beloved. The poet would like to be the sea beneath his boat, the wheels beneath his carriage, and the sparrows under his eaves. At first she says she’d like to be the noon bells that he hears but then says she wants to be “Noon to Him.” That’s a tall order among all the other tall orders for noon represents the fullness of day when the mighty sun is at the apex of his daily journey.
Atahualpa, the Incan ruler Pizarro
defeated in 1532. This 
is the guy 
with major ear bling.
            In the last stanza the poet seems to have second thoughts about claiming the privileges of noon. She pairs the familiar lovers, blossom and bee (“Come slowly—Eden”), with “Gabriel—and Me.” Gabriel is the messenger angel and Dickinson has called on him before as the deliverer of urgent truth (“For this—accepted Breath”). “Forbid my blossom, deny it all privilege,” she says. “Do away with my Bee. I can’t afford to indulge my passion for you, my desire to envelope you like sunlight and bear you up like the sea, or else I’ll be dropped from this glorious noon into ‘Everlasting Night.’” Gabriel here, the messenger, would be this very poem—her message of love and passion. Far better she lock the poem up than let it out and risk an eternal darkness.

The ballad rhythm and meter are more regular than Dickinson poems often are, lending the poem a simple storied quality. The ballad form is modified by use of catalexis (where, for example, a iambic tetrameter line is shortened by one syllable such as in “I envy Nests of Sparrows”). These catalectic feet mostly involve a feminine ending (unaccented) as in journey / Sparrows / Window / Pizarro / Blossom (vs. “convey” and “abroad”). The dropped accent at the end of the line suggests loss and sadness and it is indeed a sense of poignant sadness that we are left with after all the girlish and impulsive love.


  1. I just discovered this poem as read by meryl streep on youtube. how appropriate for valentines day. i appreciate your analysis and dedication to her work. thank you!

    i wonder why she felt that she would be plunged into darkness? i mean what kind of indulgence would she have been referring to?

  2. Thanks for commenting! That last stanza is tough. I'm not confident about what it means but it does seem that she is not wanting to stretch her luck or tempt fate. Right now she has the hope and joy of thinking these happy thoughts. But if she pushes her luck, tries to be the "noon" of her beloved's life, she risks rejection. Dickinson's beloveds were all married, I believe, at this time in her life. So she cannot risk sending her love poem, or as surely as midnight follows noon, her hopes would be categorically dashed.

    1. Thanks for these great insights! Dickinson is my patron poet. The last stanza does not inspire confidence in the reader, I agree. A couple of additional thoughts--since her beloveds were married, she would also be concerned about the social consequences of discovery (noon, everything exposed), as well as rejection. Also, consummation would not be good for her as a poet (Gabriel) -- longing/loss/surrender being necessary conditions for art (cf. "Must be a Woe - "

    2. Yes, the bird that presses its breast against a thorn to sing. Interesting about the social consequences: I'm reminded of Mabel Todd's quite open affair with ED's brother Austen. She seems to somehow have negotiated a very difficult path in the very conservative Amherst. Even Emily did not close her doors to her, and Austen's wife was one of her dearest friends.

  3. Thank you for your good analysis. The painting of emperor Atahualpa was a real eye-opener. I'm working on Dickinson's poems and I'm translating them to Kurdish and Persian. Sometimes I come here and read your writings. The images you use are as beautiful as your analysis.

    1. Thank you! What a great project -- I'm happy to contribute my little bit to it. I've learned a lot in searching for images. It's like receiving two educations in one.

  4. I love, after the flood of honey in the first five stanzas, that she would use the words interdict and abrogate, which sharpen to the point of austerity, or something like it, what has been almost too sweet.

    1. Good point. With both father and brother being prominent lawyers, I'm sure Dickinson picked up a good legal vocabulary -- which she often employs to good effect!

  5. I continue to love your sharp analysis, scholarly endeavor (with graphics, as here), and sassy contemporary lingo ("major ear bling"). And it's wonderful to encounter other readers from, apparently, everywhere. Your bold recognition of the poem itself as Gabriel seems spot on; and that last stanza seems to suggest, in part, why she sewed them all up and hid them away, content that one day SK, these other readers, all of us would find them. Again: the daring claim of "Split the Lark," (with its own sexual imagery) that the reader/lover (if no one else) will one day find her music.

    1. Thank you -- for helping make it all worth while!

  6. Perhaps she had Romeo's famous banishment speech in mind, but, unlike Romeo, refuses to challenge the social constraints and indulge her passion for fear of the same end.

    'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here,
    Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog
    And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
    Live here in heaven and may look on her;
    But Romeo may not: more validity,
    More honourable state, more courtship lives
    In carrion-flies than Romeo: they my seize
    On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand
    And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
    Who even in pure and vestal modesty,
    Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
    But Romeo may not; he is banished:
    Flies may do this, but I from this must fly:
    They are free men, but I am banished.
    And say'st thou yet that exile is not death?

  7. This is one of my favourite poems. I am trying to translate it into Chinese. Love your blog.

  8. Could the last stanza indicate a fear of the pregnancy that might result from "noon"/consummation with her beloved?

    "Blossom" and "bee" are joint symbols of fertility, which she is looking to stop in their tracks (to interdict and abrogate), and the archangel Gabriel is most famous for telling the Virgin Mary that she was going to bear a child. Having a child as an unmarried woman might have been a dreadful enough prospect at the time to characterize as "everlasting night"? Especially if, as you say, he would have been married at this point.

    It's not a theme I've seen ED discuss elsewhere though, and so I doubt my interpretation.

  9. What rich soil! Where to begin?

    Nests of sparrows, wealthy flies, and happy leaves have Summer's leave [!] to play just outside Wadsworth’s San Francisco window, but the gold earrings of Pizarro could not purchase that privilege for the poet.

    Francisco Pizarro González (1478–1541, a Spanish conquistador, best known for his expeditions that led to the Spanish conquest of Peru. He accompanied Vasco Núñez de Balboa in his crossing of the Isthmus of Panama, where they became the first Europeans to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. This is the route Charles Wadsworth, his wife, two children, and one housemaid used on their way to San Francisco in June, 1862.

  10. "I envy seas, whereon he rides, I envy spokes of wheels of chariots that him convey, I envy crooked hills that gaze upon his journey; how easy all can see what is forbidden utterly as Heaven—unto me!"

    Irony personified, an adamantly unchristian and astonishingly productive 31-year-old poet hopelessly in love with an eloquent, charismatic, conservative, married, Presbyterian preacher 16 years her senior, who, in 1862, resigned a secure position at Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia to take a struggling young Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, conceivably, to me at least, to escape suspicious rumors concerning frequent mail arriving at his Philadelphia office from Amherst, Massachusetts.

    In 1869, Wadsworth and family moved back to Philadelphia and he continued to minister there until his death on April 1, 1882. In a letter to Elizabeth Holland (L801, early 1883) ED wrote "All other Surprise is at last monotonous, but the Death of the Loved is all moments - now - Love has but one Date - 'The first of April' / 'Yesterday, Today and Forever."

    Wadsworth visited ED at her Amherst home at least twice, March 1860 and in 1880, as she documents (L1040, 15 April 1886, one month before she died; TPB Comment 10, F367, 1 July 2023 )

    At least 11 of ED's poems mention Calvary. Was she always referring to a hill in Israel or sometimes to Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco?

  11. "I envy light that wakes Wadsworth and bells that boldly ring to tell him it is noon. If I were abroad, I, myself, would be noon for him. Yet my blossom forbids, evades my bee, lest my noon for him become everlasting night and Heaven drop him and me."