National Poetry Month 2014: A Poem by Emily Dickinson

Mary Cassatt Printmaker

April is National Poetry Month. I almost forgot; but, with just a few days to spare, here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that has long been one of my favorites.


I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—
Life’s little duties do—precisely—
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—

I put new Blossoms in the Glass—
And throw the old—away—
I push a petal from my gown
That anchored there—I weigh
The time ’twill be till six o’clock
I have so much to do—
And yet—Existence—some way back—
Stopped—struck—my ticking—through—
We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman—When the Errand’s done
We came to Flesh—upon—
There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought—
Of Action—sicker far—
To simulate—is stinging work—
To cover what we are
From Science—and from Surgery—
Too Telescopic Eyes
To bear on us unshaded—
For their—sake—not for Ours—
‘Twould start them—
We—could tremble—
But since we got a Bomb—
And held it in our Bosom—
Nay—Hold it—it is calm—

Therefore—we do life’s labor—
Though life’s Reward—be done—
With scrupulous exactness—
To hold our Senses—on—

Image: Mary Cassatt, Reflection (print from a canceled plate), collections of the New York Public Library.

My Back Pages: Emily Dickinson, “I tend my flowers for thee —“


It’s almost Spring (really! soon!) and the green leaf-tips and purple-edged buds of crocus flowers have been peeping up from the dirt in front-yard garden patches along my street.

For me, no writer conveys the anticipation of each changing season as well as Emily Dickinson. I love Dickinson’s poem beginning with the line “I tend my flowers for thee —,” especially this flower-filled stanza, which evokes the fragrance of a garden in bloom:

Carnations — tip their spice —

And Bees — pick up —

A Hyacinth — I hid —

Puts out a ruffled head —

And odors fall —

From flasks — so small —

You wonder how they held —

You can read the rest of the poem here. (Of course, it holds deeper layers of interpretation!) You might also enjoy this discussion of garden imagery in Dickinson’s work, here.