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12 November 2012

Within my Garden, rides a Bird

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel—
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As 'twere a travelling Mill—

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose—
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted—
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres—
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, 'twere we—
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity—

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye—
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!
                                                                                          F370 (1862)  500

The subject of this poem is apparent to most people who have spent time observing the whirling pace and dizzying flight of the hummingbird. Here the poet and her big Newfoundland dog Carlo are out and about in the garden when they see the little bird. Its wings move so fast it does indeed seem as if it is propelled along on a “single Wheel” with humming spokes. To Dickinson it seemed a tiny traveling windmill.
Broad-Tailed hummingbird; photo: Kati Fleming
                  As she watches, it never stops although it does pause for a little sip of nectar from a rose. That done, he “Reels” up to “remoter atmospheres” in the sky. I like the next part where dog and poet look at each other as if to say, “Did you see that? Was a bird really here?” It’s Carlo, “the best Logician,” who provides the answer. He points his nose at the rose, which even the poet’s “clumsy eye” can see is still vibrating. If they questioned the bird’s existence, the quivering rose petals offer “An Exquisite Reply.”
                  The lovely thing about the ending, besides the mental picture of big Carlo pointing at a dainty rose where a tiny hummingbird just visited, is the emphasis on ephemerality: a presence has almost magically come and gone and can truly only be known by the shaking of a summer’s rose. Faith, she almost seems to imply depends on such delicate evidence. I don’t think that implication can entirely be discounted for birds are traditionally—and certainly to Dickinson—a symbol of the divine (in Christianity, the Holy Spirit).


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  2. Also, as if to say, true poetry from the Garden in the Brain, vibrates beyond speech, beyond logic. It is more direct than words, is a dizzy music that stirs everything up before removing itself to remoter atmospheres, leaving us in its wake, enchanted. What ED's poems do so well.

  3. Dear Susan, your analysis truly helped me understand and appreciate this poem, which came my way at the perfect moment. Thank you for taking the time to help readers tune into her extraordinary vision.

  4. What a wonderful poem. This daily reading of Dickinson rarely disappoints. This one is imaginative and accessible, except for that perplexing stanza about being perplexed! But the last part, being pointed from the question back to the flower by the logic of the dog is delightful. And that the flower is still vibrating from the visit of the hummingbird is truly an exquisite image.

    I also love the idea of partaking without alighting. It reminds me of Blake's poem, "He who binds to himself a joy/ Does the winged life destroy./ He who kisses the joy as it flies/ lives in eternity's sunrise".

  5. Perplexed? Dog and poet look at each other as if to say, “Was a bird really here?” Or was it just our imaginations? Carlo knows; his nose dwarfs the rose.

    Delightful, ED (and Susan)!