South Winds jostle them

Girls Picking Flowers in a Summer Landscape, 1893, Gaston Bussiere
Background Image: Girls Picking Flowers in a Summer Landscape, 1893, Gaston Bussiere

Once again Emily is writing about writing. Here she is writing a poem about flowers yet the poem never once mentions flowers, rather she focuses on the life that surrounds a flower such as “Bumblebees”, “Butterflies” and the act of “plucking”. Yet it is within the universe of poem in which this activity occurs and thus the meaning of a thing is defined by it relationship to other things.

Apparently this poem was a favorite of hers to send to other people along with some actual flowers which she had picked herself. Thus the poem and the flowers were a reminder to the recipient of Emily and Emily’s thoughtfulness towards them and helped to strengthen the relationship between them and though Emily was absent, the flowers and the poem were a representation of her, just as the poem represents the flowers which are absent within the poem.

Digging deeper into this poem reveals that Emily as the artist, if she is like the flower, disappears within the poem. She is revealed only though other people’s relationship to her, yet she remains elusive. Her friends, such as Thomas Higginson whom this poem had been sent to, are here represented as the “Bumblebees” and the “Butterflies” who “come” and “pause” at her flower and have traveled a great distance “On their passage Cashmere” to “Drink” from her. And though after “plucking” the flowers does she “Present them here”, she herself is not present. Thus she is both “here” and yet not “here”, and her present stands in place of her actual presence.

On another level she is also describing the problem with representing anything in art. No matter how well the poet describes the flower a poem can never actually be a flower – the flower will always be absent and in its place will be only words. Yet her genius is in not describing the flower at all and rather centers her attention on everything surrounding the flower. This has the effect of her seeming to slip unseen into her own art and puts the emphasis on other people without putting the focus on her, yet she can’t help but also become the true focus here because in her absence we can clearly see her in the poem as the flower we know she is writing about. In other words, for someone who remained hidden away and didn’t seem to want a lot of attention, she was nevertheless at the center of everyone’s attention by hiding herself in plain sight within her poetry. Thus Emily is everywhere and nowhere.

Perhaps she would give this poem as a gift because it was a clever way to get the recipient to think about her without her actually having to come right out and say, “Hey, it’s me, Emily and you should remember me!” And so this is wonderfully clever poem in which though she is giving someone a gift as if to say that she only wants to person a selfless act of gift-giving, winds up actually putting the attention back on her by forcing the recipient to remember her even though there is a “passage Cashmere” distance between them.