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24 September 2014

She hideth Her the last —

 She hideth Her the last —
And is the first, to rise —
Her Night doth hardly recompense
The Closing of Her eyes —

She doth Her Purple Work —
And putteth Her away
In low apartments in the sod -
As Worthily as We.

To imitate Her life
As impotent would be
As make of Our imperfect Mints,
The Julep — of the Bee —
                                                            F564 (1863)  J557

We can no more burn as brightly as the sun than make a julep as tasty as bees' honey. Dickinson likens the sun's course to human lives, but the superlative sun is the first to rise and the last to bed. Restful night is no real compensation for the brightness of her eye. After the purpling light that comes with sunset she puts herself to bed "in the sod" just as humans are laid in the earth for burial.
        Unlike mortals, the sun rises anew every morning. For this and for her brightness, it would be folly to try to "imitate Her life." Likewise, we might make a refreshing drink out of mint, mint juleps to be precise, while the bee makes honey. Its julep is far more perfect.
Sun - great; bees - wonderful;
julep - pretty darned good
I love honey, but even with "imperfect Mints," a julep is pretty hard to beat. Start with good bourbon, add sugar and mint to taste and toss in a mound of crushed ice. Yum!

Dickinson assigns the sun a feminine identity rather than the more traditional masculine. Shakespeare, for example, pegs the sun as a "he" as in Sonnet 18 where "Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines". The image of the sun as masculine reaches us from the earliest folklore and philosophy, however. The sun's potency brings life from earth and its fire is reflected in the clash and fire of war. Its light brings reason (traditionally masculine) and its movement (Yang / masculine) spurs the rhythm of days and seasons.

        In this poem, however, the Sun is a busy housewife, putting in long days and going to sleep only after her work is done. She puts herself to bed in contrast to earlier Dickinson poems where Mother Earth tenderly tucks her children "in her mysterious drawers" when their lives are over ("The Months have ends – the Years – a knot –"  [F417]). It is a homely, thoroughly female, and I much prefer it to the idea that the sun is a sky god's eye watching us.

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