This continues yesterday’s poem “Within my reach!” as a possible allusion to Hades’ rape of Persephone. This is all from Hades’ point of view or at least from the point of view of the sinner who has stolen or defiled something that was beautiful just to have it for themselves (“I shall never tell”). It has a childish feeling of selfishness / deviousness to the motivation.
The first stanza puts us in the point of view of whomever is spying and their conflicted feelings about the act they are to commit: she’s “pretty” and he (I’m assuming gender here) is “ashamed”. There is also a slight sexual allusion being made with “hidden in her leaflets” to mean perhaps her sexual organs. This idea of the beauty but also the shame of sexuality is not uncommon (even to this day, especially in America).
The second stanza seems to have almost a dual point of view as it could be the rapist who is “breathless” as they try to sneak up on her, but it could also be she who is “breathless” because she suspects she is being watched as her body is exposed (her “hidden” “leaflets” are visible). But then she is captured (rape is also a raptus in that in the medieval sense, such as with Chaucer and Malory, it also means abduction, not necessarily a forced sexual assault) and the use of “haunts” again gives strength to the argument this could be read as Hades dragging her down to the underworld and the idea that sexuality and sin are mixed images and the possibility that sexuality, especially elicit sexuality, leads to damnation. But it could also be the idea of a blossoming sexuality (or she’s just getting horny and writing a poem about that) and the duality of the “struggling” to not give in to that temptation is commingled with her “blushing” in that it’s possibly very enjoyable.
The final stanza has two very interesting words. “Dingle” is a deep, dark forest where she is hidden, but there is a sexuality to this word too in that the forest could be the pubic hair and the dingle could be the fun way of referring to the clitoris, the way someone who is sexually inexperienced might refer to their sexual organs (previous described as “leaflets”). There is also the meaning of “Dingle” as a ringing bell and this combines the sexual energy of this word with that of a church bell ringing out and reminding her of her sin. In the first two lines of this stanza there are the sins “robbed” and “betrayed” and the final two lines deal with confession (“ask me” and “I shall never tell”).
“Dell” is another interesting word in that this is also a forest but the obsolete usage of the word in the OED also means “a young girl (of the vagrant class), wench” which was last used by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1834 in his novel Rookwood so the word was still being used around Emily’s time, at least in literature. This idea of a wench, a girl whose morality is in question could refer to the girl in this poems’ conflicted sexuality.
All in all these two poems are a wonderful exploration of sexuality, myth, repression, and elicit excitement.