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

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

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

Depending on who is being described as "baffled" and "embarrassed," Emily Dickinson’s "Baffled for just a day or two" 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!

Commentary

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

First Stanza: A Stranger in Her Garden

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. The explicit subject of the verb "encounter" remains a mystery; while the form may even seem to express a command, it seems unlikely that someone is commanding something of some other entity.

Perhaps a flower or other little plant is struggling to emerge, as a flower would do as it is pushing itself up through the soil. Apparently, the being remained confused and embarrassed in the situation for only a couple of days.

It is likely that because of its struggle, it looked awkward, and therefore became "embarrassed." But still, it struggled on without fear. Confusion and embarrassment were not strong enough to make this mysterious entity afraid of any consequences that it might encounter.

This event happened in the speaker's garden; thus, it becomes most likely that the speaker has "encounter[ed]" this "unexpected Maid." Although the actor of the action of encountering has remained somewhat mysterious, the location of "in my garden" presents a strong suggestion that it is the speaker who has encountered this "unexpected Maid."

That the maid is "unexpected" reveals that the speaker has, indeed, been surprised by this maid, even though she has qualified her surprise by making it more specific as well as puzzling: that she was baffled, embarrassed but remained unafraid reveals her very specific reactions and feelings about this chance encounter.

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.

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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 mysterious yet important "Maid," who has made her sudden appearance, then gestures enticingly, and that coaxing invitation causes the "woods" to begin moving or perhaps rustling from the wind; the exact reason again for the starting woods remains unrevealed.

The "Maid" then "nods" and things begin to happen. What begins to happen, the speaker is not completely divulging. Likely, at this point, the speaker also remains unaware of what is going to happen or how.

She had admitted to being "baffled" at first, but she has never really proven that that baffled state remained only "a day or two." Because she continues to remain so mysterious in her exposition and imagery, the time-frame in which she is speaking could be only that second day.

The speaker then asserts another odd remark, saying that she "was never" in "such a country." That claim is surely baffling, 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. Thus, her claim of having never been in this garden is an exaggeration.

But she has not referred to never having been in a particular garden; she has called the location of this mysterious events a "country / [She was never in!" However, it is easily surmised that she is likening her metaphysical garden to a country.

Because the metaphysical is so easily reckoned as metaphorical, a toggle between "garden" and "country" is easily inserted into the poetic mix.

Emily Dickinson’s mystically inclined mind worked in such a way that may allow her speaker to exaggerate: that the flower (entity) that appeared revealed a beauty 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.

This interpretation would then split off "country" from "garden" while allowing the speaker suggest that one encompasses the other.

The poem works well on either the physical (Maid as flower) or the metaphysical (Maid as poem), as all great poetry does. While the physical (flower) interpretation may be quite possible, the metaphysical, metaphorical flower as poem remains more likely because of mystical mind of the poet.

The physical flower interpretation becomes somewhat pedestrian and even puzzling in confronting the opening description of bafflement and embarrassment. The appearance of a mysterious flower in one’s garden would hardly herald those reactions.

Perhaps a brief start and a bit of thought that likely a bird has scattered a seed would intrude after such an encounter, but a state of remaining puzzled and embarrassed for a day or two is not at all likely.

Emily Dickinson - Amherst College - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant, authentic image of the poet.

Emily Dickinson - Amherst College - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant, authentic image of the poet.

Questions & Answers

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

Answer: 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.

Question: Could we also consider the possibility that the "maid" is the poem's author and consumer. It is the poet composing from a subconscious prompting and discovering later what the poem reveals about the thoughts submerged in the "orchard" ?

Answer: You are free to consider any possibility you want. However, there is no mention of an "orchard" in the poem, and you have placed it in quotation marks, indicating that there is. So already you are off to a false start.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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