MARCH
2000

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

03-09-00

Insects Abundant in Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is well-known today for her poetry. It was not always that way, however. She was a prolific poet and wrote hundreds of poems. But only three or four were published during her lifetime. In her native town of Amherst, Mass., she was regarded as an eccentric recluse. She seldom set foot outside her home.

Dickinson had a keen insight of nature and frequently used insects to express her messages about love, life and death. She was comfortable with insects as an integral part of nature.

“The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
Receive me cordially.”

She compares her love of nature to the addiction of an alcoholic. And, to express the incurable aspect of her addiction to nature, penned the following lines with a continuing alcohol analogy.

“When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove's door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!”

Dickinson thinks unrealized dreams are a lot like a boy chasing a bee.

“Like the June bee
Before the school-boy
Invites the race;”

But as most of us know, the bee is seldom captured even though it is going about its business of nectar collection from the flowers.

Emily Dickinson frequently ties changing of the seasons with insect presence. Summer is described in terms of “dreamy butterflies.” During the summer, “Baronial bees march, one by one, In murmuring platoon!”

Crickets are indicators of fall in Dickinson's poetry. In a poem entitled “My Cricket,” it is described as:

“Farther in summer than the birds,
Pathetic from the grass,
A minor nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive mass.”

Also as an indicator of the changing season: “Twas later when the summer went than when the cricket came.”

But fall means that other insects are in decline, especially the bees, which are most active in the spring and summer. “The murmuring of bees has ceased,” and “An aged bee addressed us” are words chosen by Dickinson to indicate the coming of fall.

Dickinson in a sense sums up her love of nature and an appreciation of the part insects play in the grand scheme of things in the following poem.

“To make a prairie it takes a clover
and one bee, —
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.”

Maybe it was true that Emily Dickinson found insects easier to get along with than humans. That might be the reason that in respect to her death, she worried about “not quite having the strength now to break it to the bee.”

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox