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28 June 2020

Answer July —

Answer July —
Where is the Bee —
Where is the Blush —
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July —
Where is the Seed —
Where is the Bud —
Where is the May —
Answer Thee — Me —

Nay — said the May —
Show me the Snow —
Show me the Bells —
Show me the Jay!

Quibbled the Jay —
Where be the Maize —
Where be the Haze —
Where be the Bur?
Here — said the Year —
                                                              Fr667 (1863)  J386

In this playful wisdom poem Dickinson puts on her Gardener's gloves and her Philosopher's hat. Blending a Buddhist-like Cause and Conditions theme with her preferred vantage of Circumference, Dickinson depicts a year from the vantage of field and garden. Each season depends on conditions in the previous and all are encompassed in the circuit of a Year.
What gives this poem a fresh and sprightly virility are its meter and repetitions. The dimeter lines comprise a trochee and an iamb but the effect is dactylic with a stressed word at the end. Add strings of imperatives to this strongly rhythmic structure and the poem practically hurtles to its end when the gentle and parental Year shushes the quibblers with reassurance.

The poem unfolds as a small, interrogative drama. Autumn begins by demanding that July (standing for Summer) account for her Bees, the Blushes on ripened fruit, and the harvest-ready grass. For what would Autumn be without the harvest and the honey?  July punts the question back to Spring by demanding May account for her seeds and buds. After all, they produce the grass and flowers that attract the bees.
May doesn't answer except to now demand answers about winter from the Jay, a common overwintering bird in Massachusetts. Her bulbs and fruit trees, along with many early flowers and crops, require an extended period of cold to bloom and set fruit. 
The blue jay turns querulously to autumn about her corn maize, misty haze, and "Bur" --  the stubble and remains of harvest (ED Lexicon). Blue jays depend on bur and corn for food, and winter can hardly be expected to deliver Spring's material without the gifts of Autumn. At this point the "Year," steps in. It is all here, she soothes the quibblers. I encompass it all. 

This ripening of parts into a cyclical whole is an agrarian model and one into which Dickinson would have been deeply steeped. The Dickinsons had a small working farm with animals, fruit trees, grains, and vegetable gardens. Emily was well known as a skilled gardener. She was a knowledgeable gardener by the age of eleven, she studied botany at college, had her own glass conservatory, and tended the flower gardens and shrubs. 

Restored garden at Dickinson homestead
Many of Dickinson's poems are about plants and seasons; their mood and tone range from solemn to ecstatic to riddling. This poem stands alone in its bold and cheeky tone. Dickinson ends each short line with a stressed one-syllable word and this emphasizes the interrogative voice. "Where is the Bee" is much more emphatic a question than, say, "Where is the Iris". It's not just the line-ending words: the entire poem is almost entirely written with one-syllable words. I count only five that have more, and they only have two. 
The short, driving meter; the rhymes and repetitions all reinforce the rhythms of the year. Long-'a' rhymes are sprinkled throughout the poem: Hay, May, Nay, May, Jay, Jay; along with Maize and Haze. Long-'e' rhymes include Bee, Seed, Thee, Me, me (3), and be (3). There's also Snow and Show (3) and the beautiful end rhyme of Here and Year. As for repetitions, 'Where' is repeated nine times and 'Show me' three. 

The poem is direct and fun. I picture Dickinson reading it – acting it out – to young children. The seasons themselves are presented as children, each pointing the finger at another. The parental Year is given only one word to say, but ends the poem with gentle authority.