Emily Dickinson's "Baffled for just a day or two"

Updated on April 13, 2018
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Emily Dickinson

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Baffled for just a day or two"

Depending on who is being described as "baffled" and "embarrassed," the poem reveals a chance "encounter" with some unexpected, but likely not completely unknown entity. Because the location is the speaker's "garden," a flower may be presumed.

But if "garden" refers to the mythological garden of the poet's poetry, as mentioned in the poem, "There is another sky," in which the speaker invites her brother, "Prithee, my brother, / Into my garden come!," the strange, "unexpected Maid," may turn out to be a poem.

Baffled for just a day or two

Baffled for just a day or two —
Embarrassed — not afraid —
Encounter in my garden
An unexpected Maid.

She beckons, and the woods start —
She nods, and all begin —
Surely, such a country
I was never in!

Emily Dickinson

Source

Commentary

Emily Dickinson's metaphysical garden includes many varieties of flowering poems, even those that might have startled her upon first appearance.

First Stanza: Some Stranger in Her Garden Has Appeared

Baffled for just a day or two —
Embarrassed — not afraid —
Encounter in my garden
An unexpected Maid.

The speaker begins with an odd remark, indicating that someone or some entity was confused and perhaps struggling to emerge, as a flower pushing itself up through the soil might do. The entity remained in the situation for only a couple of days. Because of its struggle, which likely looked awkward, it was "embarrassed," but it struggled on without fear.

This event happened in the speaker's garden, where she "encounter[ed]" "an unexpected Maid." The speaker never reveals explicitly who or what this "Maid" is. She leaves it up to the reader to take as much from her riddle/poem as possible. And it is likely that she thinks of this poem as so deeply personal that she will remain blissfully unconcerned even if no one ever grasps her exact reference.

Second Stanza: From Some Hitherto Unvisited Metaphysical Plane

She beckons, and the woods start —
She nods, and all begin —
Surely, such a country
I was never in!

This important "Maid," who has made her appearance, then gestures enticingly, and that coaxing invitation causes the "woods" to begin moving toward her. The "Maid" then "nods" and things begin to happen. What begins to happen, the speaker is not divulging.

The speaker then asserts another odd remark, saying that she "was never" in "such a country." That claim baffles the reader, for surely the speaker cannot be saying she was never in her garden, whether it refers to her literal, physical garden or to her figurative, metaphysical garden.

But ah, knowing Dickinson, how mystically inclined her mind worked, her speaker could, in fact, be exaggerating because after the flower appeared, its beauty was beyond the gardener/speaker's expectations.

Or if the "Maid" is a poem, the speaker is revealing that the poem was so new, fresh, and profound that she feels she has never before encountered such a piece, and therefore it must come from a "country" or place in her mind/soul in which she up to this point, has never visited.

The poem works well on either the physical (Maid as flower) or the metaphysical (Maid as poem), as all great poetry does. And while a reader might choose to accept the physical, readers who choose the metaphysical are likely to become more in tune with the Dickinsonian mind.

Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

The text I use for commentaries
The text I use for commentaries | Source

Life Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father's home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily's personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily's New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily's father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily's early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father's community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily's poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family's and compatriots' intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Publication

Very few of Emily's poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily's room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily's brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily's poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had "corrected" for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily's mystically brilliant talent.

Questions & Answers

  • What if the maid was a hallucinogenic mushroom in Emily Dickinson's "Baffled for just a day or two"?

    The poem works its magic on either the physical level—"Maid" as hallucinogenic mushroom—or the metaphysical level—"Maid" as poem— as all great poetry does. And while some literal-minded readers might choose to focus solely on the physical, more enlightened readers, who choose the metaphysical, are better able to tune with the Dickinsonian mind.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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