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Emily Dickinson's "She slept beneath a tree" and "It's all I have to bring today"

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 at age 17 - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant, authentic image of the poet.

Emily Dickinson at age 17 - This daguerreotype is likely the only extant, authentic image of the poet.

Introduction and Text of "She slept beneath a tree" and "It's all I have to bring today"

The first installment of this mini-series, "She slept beneath a tree," offers up one of those famous Emily Dickinson riddles. She only describes her subject but never names it, leaving that up to her readers to guess.

The second installment, "It's all I have to bring today," sounds almost as if she is offering a continuation of the first offering. One can imagine that the "it" in the first line refers to the subject of the "She slept beneath a tree."

An interesting contrast can be experienced by reading "It's all I have to bring today" in tandem with "She slept beneath a tree."

She slept beneath a tree

She slept beneath a tree –
Remembered but by me.
I touched her Cradle mute –
She recognized the foot –
Put on her carmine suit
And see!

It's all I have to bring today

It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Song lyric: "It's all I have to bring today"

Commentary on "She slept beneath a tree"

This riddle poem remains mysteriously vague, as the speaker plays with the reader's sensibilities. While the subject of the riddle might be interesting, more important is the effect that child of nature has on the speaker.

First Movement: A Riddle

She slept beneath a tree –
Remembered but by me.
I touched her Cradle mute –

The speaker reports that the subject of her riddle had been sleeping at the foot of tree. No one had remembered or taken note of the subject except for the speaker, who visits the subject and "touched her Cradle." The cradle was mute or perhaps it was the speaker who remained mute. By allowing the ambiguity, the speaker amplifies the impact of the riddle.

Second Movement: Remarkable Claim

She recognized the foot –
Put on her carmine suit
And see!

The speaker then makes a remarkable claim, reporting that her subject was aware of the speaker's identity because of the sound of her football. The speaker is now playing with her readers, telling them that she, in fact, is the one who was able to remember and spot the subject.

Even more remarkable and cagey of the speaker, is that after the subject of her discourse recognizes the speaker, the subject dresses herself out in a "carmine suit." The dark red coloring of the subject might offer a clue to her identity, but it might also obfuscate that identify.

The speaker then excitedly cries, "And see!" She is pointing to the subject, telling her companion, who may be real or imagined, to observe the fascinating, unusual color of the subject. The speaker makes little known about the subject itself; her description seems to cover more than uncover.

Yet that description reveals much about the speaker, who has demonstrated her joy, even glee, at the opportunity to discover and visit this nature's child who sleeps beneath a tree and then turns red at the mere presence of the speaker's aura. So who is child of nature sleeping beneath and tree? Anyone can offer a guess.

Commentary on "It's all I have to bring today"

The poem begins in humble recognition of a humble offering but then expands to include all the speaker's circumference.

First Movement: A Blooming Statement

It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –

The speaker begins small with a statement that sounds quite limiting. She apparently is porting something and says that's all she has brought today. But she seems immediately to contradict that limiting statement by opening up to a whole wide world of other things she is bringing.

In addition to the object she has brought, she is also bringing "her heart," "all the fields," as well as "all the meadows." Her statement seems to fan out like one of those Japanese folding fans that folds up and then spreads out for use in moving the air about one's face.

Second Movement: Reckoning the Divine Reality

Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

To her audience, the speaker then commands they also include the original Creator, that is, "some one the sum could tell." Only that Creator (God) is able to reckon all the creation that the speaker has chosen to allude to in her expanding report.

The speaker then reiterates that she is bringing "this" along with her heart and then expands further by including "all the Bees" that live in the clover. She has gone from bringing only a seeming token to bringing all that her eyes can detect or all that he mind can discern.

The speaker is simply offering all that she is, sees, and knows to the Blessèd Creator, Who has fashioned all of this magnificent nature that she adores with her heart and soul.

Taken Together: An Alternate View

Looking at each installment of this mini-series individually returns a conglomeration of the two slightly differing views as described in the commentaries above. But a slightly different view may be taken by using a small adjustment.

If one interprets the "it" in the second part of the series as referring to the subject of the first installment, then the speaker seems to have plucked the tulip and is now offering it at her altar for her meditation and prayer.

Actually, everything else remains the same; her humble offering to her Divine Belovèd has caused her mind to expand from simple awareness of the tulip to acknowledgment of all the Blessèd Creator's creation—including her heart, the fields, the meadows, and, of course, all the bees in the clover.

The text I use for commentaries

The text I use for commentaries

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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