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Emily Dickinson's "Nobody knows this little Rose"

Emily Dickinson's poems remain a vital part of my poet worldview. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson Commemorative Stamp

Emily Dickinson Commemorative Stamp

Introduction and Text of "Nobody knows this little Rose"

The speaker in Emily Dickinson’s "Nobody knows this little Rose" is lamenting the fact that this "little Rose" will die without having garnered much attention during its earthly sojourn. Except for a bee, a butterfly, a bird and a gentle wind, along with the speaker, likely few if any will even notice that such a one existed. In noting that it is easy for this little flower to die, the speaker is mourning that death. Such beauty should not be lost so easily but should garner attention, perhaps have its status elevated to a higher plane than the mere physical presence so easily lost.

Thomas Johnson, the editor who restored Emily’s poem to their original forms, reckoned that Dickinson wrote this poem as well as "Garland for Queens, may be" around 1858. One might imagine that she likely wrote this one first and then decided to correct the situation of a "little Rose" dying so easily without much attention; thus, she elevates the flower to heavenly status in "Garland for Queens, may be." Regardless of when the poet penned the poems, they offer two fascinating views of the same subject.

Nobody knows this little Rose

Nobody knows this little Rose–
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it–
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey–
On its breast to lie–
Only a Bird will wonder–
Only a Breeze will sigh–
Ah Little Rose–how easy
For such as thee to die!

Emily Dickinson at 17

Emily Dickinson at 17

Commentary

The speaker is musing about the death of a small rose. She imagines its family mourning the rose’s absence. The speaker, while musing to herself, incidentally addresses God in the opening movement and then the rose itself in the final movement.

First Movement: Lamentation for the Unknown

Nobody knows this little Rose–
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.

The speaker begins her lament by claiming that no one is acquainted with her subject, a simple, small rose. She has plucked this little rose, which apparently was growing in the wild. The speaker speculates that this little rose might be "a pilgrim" for it was growing away from other flower beds. She then rather casually asks someone, likely God, or Mother Nature about her own act.

Although formed as a question, the speaker actually reveals the fact that she did pluck the little flower and then offered it up to "thee." It remains a strange confession, but it is likely that the act of plucking the rose has set her off to realizing that it will now die. But instead of just enjoying its beauty, she continues to speculate about the life of the little flower.

Second Movement: Only Missing

Only a Bee will miss it–
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey–
On its breast to lie–

In her speculation, the speaker takes into account who might have been its visitors. She exaggerates that a solitary bee "will miss" the rose because of the speaker’s act. But after saying "only" a bee will note that the little rose is missing, she remembers that likely a "butterfly" will also note its absence. The butterfly will have traveled perhaps miles to rest upon the little rose’s "breast." And the butterfly, the speaker speculates, will have been hurrying to finish its "journey" that led it to the rose’s abode. Now after it makes that hastened trip, it will be astonished, or perhaps frustrated, that the little flower has gone missing.

Third Movement: The Ease of Dying

Only a Bird will wonder–
Only a Breeze will sigh–
Ah Little Rose–how easy
For such as thee to die!

The speaker continues to catalogue those creatures who will be missing the little rose. She notes that in addition to the bee and the butterfly, some bird is going to wonder what happened to the flower. The last entity to ponder the absence of the little rose is the "Breeze," which will "sigh" as it wafts over the location that once held the sweet fragrance of the rose.

After the speaker’s intense musing to herself and to the Blessèd Creator of nature, she then addresses the rose itself, but all she can do is offer a simple, humble remark about how "easy" it is for a creature such as the "Little Rose" "to die!" Her excited utterance, however, belies the simplicity of the words. Her heart is filled with the sadness and sorrow that accompany the missing of loved ones.

The speaker has created and assembled a family for the little rose: a bee, a butterfly, a bird, and a breeze. All of these creatures of nature have interacted with the rose, and now the speaker is musing on how they will be affected by the flower’s absence. They will all miss her, and the speaker knows how missing a loved one feels. The ease with which a little unknown creature dies does not assuage the pain its absence will cause.

The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries

The text I use for Dickinson poem commentaries

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes