Search This Blog

08 January 2015

I'm saying every day

I'm saying every day
"If I should be a Queen, Tomorrow" —
I'd do this way —
And so I deck, a little,

If it be, I wake a Bourbon,
None on me – bend supercilious —
With "This was she —
Begged in the Market place — Yesterday."

Court is a stately place —
I've heard men say —
So I loop my apron — against the Majesty
With bright Pins of Buttercup —
That not too plain —
Rank — overtake me —

And perch my Tongue
On Twigs of singing — rather high —
But this, might be my brief Term
To qualify —

Put from my simple speech all plain word —
Take other accents, as such I heard
Though but for the Cricket — just,
And but for the Bee —
Not in all the Meadow —
One accost me —

Better to be ready —
Than did next Morn
Meet me in Aragon —
My old Gown — on —

And the surprised Air
Rustics — wear —
Summoned — unexpectedly —
To Exeter —
                                        F575 (1863)  J373

Dickinson is a poet of many things, and here she is a poet of delight. This is a poem of dress up and pretend without any bite or twist. The game is to dress and talk like the nobility in case she were to miraculously become a queen. "Better to be ready", she says, than to be caught in her "old Gown" and gawking in "the surprised Air / Rustics – wear" when they are unexpectedly summoned to court. 
Real Queen: Catherine
of Aragon
        Does the poet give any reason for playing this game? No. But it's fun and the fun becomes apparent as the poem progresses. It's all about dress up, not governance or royal privilege. 

First, Dickinson must deck herself out "a little" so the nobles won't superciliously sneer about her begging in the marketplace the day before. She loops her apron in, perhaps, swags that mimic fancy court dress styles. Then she pins the drapes with pretty yellow buttercup flowers. Content that those of higher rank won't outshine her, she then turns to her speech.
        She pitches her voice high, probably in simpering tones. I love her metaphor here: she perches her tongue "On twigs of singing". Divine. Next, because she might have a very "brief Term" to make a suitable impression, she adopts a fancy accent. 
Would-be queen
        All this effort goes for very little show, however, as the poet's only witnesses in the meadow are the Cricket and the Bee. But, she cheerfully concludes, it's best to be prepared. 

Dickinson scatters end rhymes throughout the poem and varies the stanza lengths and meters, giving the poem a casual, spontaneous air. I can see her delivering this poem to a young audience, curtseying, speaking in some funny accent, and brandishing some buttercups.


  1. A beautiful poem and insightful commentary.

    The rhythms of this poem are like prose rhythms. And I think I have found a new favorite Dickinson rhyme: "Morn . . . Aragon -- My old Gown -- on --" (my old favorite was "listens" and "distance" in the last paragraph of "There is a certain slant of light").

    The bird image, as you point out, is beautiful. The image opens in the seventh line "perch my Tongue" and then is renewed in "Twigs of singing" way down in the fifth stanza -- with the distance between creating a memory, recognition and reference back for the reader. The phrase "surprised Air" has both a connotation of the the air below a bird perched high in a tree, and, perhaps, "air" in the sense of a folk melody.

    Overall, it is a poem about the poet's relationship to nature -- both homely and intimate (with the Cricket and the Bee "accosting" the poet in a familiar way for her pretence at royalty and "bright Pins of Buttercup") and as spokesperson for the majesty of nature.

    A like the poem on so many levels. On one reading I am taken by the proper nouns (Bourbon, Aragon, Exeter). The next it is the rhymes or rhythms or the overall theme of great majesty and power arising in the form of a humble, reclusive woman in rural Massachusetts.

  2. On second thought, "surprised Air" is more naturally the attitude of the rustic, as you suggest.

    It would be a stretch to read it as an extension of the bird metaphor.

  3. Stanza 5:

    When I speak refinedly, no meadow hoity-toity shall rudely accost me, except, of course, the Cricket and the Bee; they’ll see through my act and laugh.

    Love it!