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Emily Dickinson's "When I count the seeds"

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

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

Introduction and Text of "When I count the seeds"

In her poem, "There is another sky," Emily Dickinson created a speaker who introduced her own spiritual, mystical garden, the second poem featured in Editor Thomas Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, the volume in which Johnson presented Dickinson’s original forms, rescuing them from the versions that had been manipulated and altered by editors such as Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Higginson.

In "When I count the seeds," the speaker is musing on the nature of her spiritual garden of verse and ultimately concludes its importance for her. After such mental forays into the blessed garden, her beloved, favorite season, "summer," she can leave without trepidation.

The form of the poem is structured on three "when" clauses, after which the speaker makes the claim that something happens following the activities in the clauses. Because of the vague nature of the adverbial conjunction, "when," one should think of its meaning as "after." It is after each of the events in the "when" clauses that the last line’s activity becomes possible.

When I count the seeds

When I count the seeds
That are sown beneath,
To bloom so, bye and bye –

When I con the people
Lain so low,
To be received as high –

When I believe the garden
Mortal shall not see –
Pick by faith its blossom
And avoid its Bee,
I can spare this summer, unreluctantly.

Turned into a song - musical rendition of "When I count the seeds"

Commentary

Each "when" clause features an event, after the sum of which the speaker becomes relieved of the human trepidation of regret at losing some desired situation. In this case, it is simply the passing of summer. The speaker feels a certain melancholy at the end of the summer season. That presents a problem that she must solved, lest she remain in blue funk. Her wide brain is up to the task, as she storms her garden of verse for the answer to the difficulty.

First Stanza: Taking Stock

When I con the people
Lain so low,
To be received as high –

The second "when" clause addresses the time-frame wherein the speaker has contemplated folks who have been demoted from high station to low but likely still remain held in high regard to many others. Some folks have died, and yet their reputations have been elevated.

An interesting tension results because "the seeds" are the ideas, thoughts, and/or prompts for each poem in her spiritually erected garden. After each idea or thought or prompt has been sown, it will blossom forth into a perfect flower-poem. In time, she has found that she possesses many seeds as well as flowers to be reckoned with.

The term "count" is employed metaphorically to stand as "reckon," "contemplate," or more likely even, "muse," rather than the literal, mathematical rendering of the term’s definition. She is not counting to find out how many seeds she has; she is musing on the lot for the glory of outcome they possess.

Second Stanza: Continuing to Contemplate

When I con the people
Lain so low,
To be received as high –

The second "when" clause addresses the time-frame wherein the speaker has contemplated folks who have been demoted from high station to low but likely still remain held in high regard to many others. Some folks have died, and yet their reputations have been elevated.

The speaker’s reason for musing on this situation likely ascends out of a need to place evaluations on the stages of life. To be placed "so low" metaphorically responds to being placed in the lowest position the human body may find itself, that is, in the bottom of a grave.

Yet, the generality of the phrase "so low" remains easily understood as position in life from a lowly profession to a high one, for example, a street sweeper to a clergyman.

After such cogitation on the seeds of her spiritual garden and then on the various degrees of humanity, the speaker is almost ready to assert her report about what happens next.

Third Stanza: Achievement of Purpose

When I believe the garden
Mortal shall not see –
Pick by faith its blossom
And avoid its Bee,
I can spare this summer, unreluctantly.

In the final "when" clause, the speaker is asserting that after she has had the opportunity to survey the marvelous, mystical garden, which may not be perceived through "mortal" vision, her faith allows her to pluck any of the garden’s magic blossoms and then to re-experience any of the poems which have thus far been cultivated therein without attracting the painful attention of the worrisome sting of "its Bee," a natural creature that would bedevil any literal garden.

So after she has contemplated the seeds (thoughts, feelings), which have led to sprouting those flowers (poems), and after she has mused on the nature of human status, and finally after she has plucked (read) one of those "blossom[s]" (poems), she can recover from feeling any sorrow and regret that her beloved, favorite season of summer is now coming to a close.

The little drama featured in this poem remains so simple, yet through the instrumentality of the complex talent possessed by the poet, the resulting discourse features a colorful, strikingly refreshing account that reveals the nature of profound, intuitive thinking. The poet possessed virtually magical powers of seeing deep into the nature of each created object, into each empirical development, and into each observable array of kinetic energy that infused those things and events.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 14, 2021:

Thank you for your response, Teodora Gheorghe.

Yes, Emily is never boring. She offers much food for thought as well as light-hearted entertainment. Meeting a new poet can be challenging but after becoming well-acquainted with any true classic poet, one can be comforted with the fact such a poet is reliable. The reader can trust that poet's effort, knowing that behind it is sincere thought and emotion. Emily is always reliable because she took as her goal the challenge to express reality in human terms.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 14, 2021:

Thank you, Millicent Okello! Emily can be a bit of a challenge until you get used to her minimalism. Also understanding how precise she is helps to comprehend her subtleties. Her choice of subject for each drama also varies but can usually be easily detected. Her masterful employment of metaphor and image insure that each little drama is both entertaining as well as enlightening.

Teodora Gheorghe on September 14, 2021:

Indeed, the depth that underlies her poetry is fascinating.

Millicent Okello from Nairobi, Kenya on September 14, 2021:

What a great analyses on the poem by Emily Dickson. You made it easier to understand right from the first and last stanza. Thanks.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 14, 2021:

Thank you for your comment, Teodora Gheorghe! Yes, I adore Emily's work too. She never disappoints as she offers her great insights and new ways of looking at the world. Her minimalism is amazing, as she can impart such profundity with so few words. And she does all that with her little fascinating, colorful dramas.

Teodora Gheorghe on September 14, 2021:

Great article! I love Emily Dickinson's poetry.

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