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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.


  1. For what it's worth:

    A History of the Female Sun › sun-goddess_b_884568
    Henes, Donna. Huffington Post. Aug 26, 2011

    In archaic times, people perceived the sun, in its shining prime and glory, the giver of heat and light and life, to be the effulgent force of the female. A passionate aspect of the great mother, the versatile jill-of-all-trades who issues forth and supports whole life. She is the heaven Illuminating goddess, Amaterasu Omikame, in Japan, and the queen of heaven and Earth, Arinna, in Mesopotamia. She was Yhi, sun woman, to the Arunta of Australia. Sun sister was known in Anatolia, Siberia and Tribal Native America.

    The Germans called her Sunna, as did the Norwegians. In Scandinavia, she was Glory-of-Elves or Sol. The Eddas say that on doomsday, she will bear a daughter who will be the new sun, the next creation. The luminous world to come. She was Sol, as well, to the Celts who also called her Sul or Sulis. Her celebrations took place on open plains, on hilltops, overlooking springs. A major ceremonial site was Silbury Hill (Sulisbury Hill) and the springs at Bath, once called Aquae Sulis, were the site of Roman altars sacred to Sul Minerva.

    The great mother in ancient India was Aditi, the mother of the 12 spirits of the zodiac, the Adityas who would "reveal their light at doomsday." The Mahanirvanatantra describes the sun as a golden garment of light that graces the great goddess. "The sun, the most glorious symbol in the physical world, is the vesture of Her who is 'clothed with the sun.'"

    Tantric Buddhist monks greeted the sun goddess, Marici, at dawn, chanting to her, "the glorious one, the sun of happiness... I salute you O Goddess Marici! Bless me and fulfill my desires. Protect me, O Goddess, from all the eight fears." Marici, or Mari, was a precursor of the Christian Mary. The New Testament Book of Revelation refers to her as a "woman clothed in the sun."

    orange like a
    parrot's beak,
    arousing with a lover's
    touch the clustered
    lotus buds,
    I praise this
    great wheel the sun --
    rising it is an
    earring for
    the Lady of the East.

    -- Vidya Kara
    11th Century Sanskrit Poetess

    Do Mint Julips help decipher ED? (Larry B)

  2. By my count of poems preceding this one, when ED identifies the gender of the Sun, it’s female once, in this poem, and eight times male:

    I never told the buried gold
    Some Rainbow - comIng from the Fair!
    The Daisy follows soft the Sun –
    A something In a summer's Day
    The Sun kept stooping - stooping -low
    The Sun - just touched the Morning
    I'll tell you how the Sun rose –
    A Visitor in Marl-

  3. Vijja, also known as Vidya or Vijjaka, was an 8th or 9th century Sanskrit poet from present-day India. Her verses appear in the major medieval Sanskrit anthologies.