A sepal – petal – and a thorn

Sahurs Meadows in Morning Sun, 1894, Alfred Sisley
Background Image: Sahurs Meadows in Morning Sun, 1894, Alfred Sisley

This is a joyful poem, even though there is a very slight allusion to mourning with her use of the wordplay of “morn” when coupled with the rhyme of the “thorn”. She very often mixes emotional states in her poems and so adding a thorn to an otherwise delicate flower gives it a hardiness and an insular nature that is difficult to penetrate. Emily was, after all, a complicated person capable of feeling many different things at the same time and expressing that complex overlay in most of her poetry.

Yet in this poem she is “a Rose” who enjoys “a common summer morn”, the “flask of Dew” collecting in the petals of her flower as if she were drinking the nectar of the gods and then passing on her vitality to the bees who have come by to dine with her.

The most remarkable line – and one of the most imaginative I’ve ever read – is the “caper in the trees”. You can almost hear the “Breeze” rustling through the leaves (an image she has, quite literally, built up in the first line with “sepal” and “petal”), but it’s not just a common breeze, there is joy and even a mischievousness to that breeze as it engages in a “caper” among the tree tops. The simple line transports us from the ground where the rose lives, to the sky where we float along with the bees as we “caper” about and frolic, perhaps even drunk of some of the “dew”.

The final line also contains a hint of word play in “I’m a rose” which can be read (in the Gertrude Stein sense – which, though it’s not related, was published in her work titled “Sacred Emily”) of ‘arose’, as in she is risen, not just with joy, but right up into the sky to be carried upon the “breeze”. Emily loves to imagine transformations, especially as nature relates to the spiritual world, and here she combines the two into an ecstasy that seems to exist somewhere in the currents of air between heaven in earth.