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Emily Dickinson's "'Why do I love' You, Sir?"

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

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "'Why do I love' You, Sir?"

Emily Dickinson’s poem begins with the following oddly punctuated first line:

"Why do I love" You, Sir?

Dickinson’s Editors

When analyzing Dickinson’s poems, it is useful to remember that she did not work with an editor for the purpose of publishing. Her poems were edited after her death by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, but their reworking often smoothed out Dickinson’s quirky use of language to the point of crushing the innovation and nuances that made her the unique poet she remains.

Therefore, Thomas H. Johnson restored her poems to the originals as found in the bundles of poem written in her own handwriting. Thus, the reader must be aware that Dickinson might have been persuaded to alter some of her quirks for publication, if she had been assured that her meaning would not be changed but instead made clearer by the changes.

The odd punctuation of this poem, especially the first line, is an example of a Dickinsonian quirk which, no doubt, would have been altered by an editor after close consultation with the poet. Indeed, it would be fascinating to hear Dickinson’s explanation for placing "Why do I love" in quotation marks, making it appear as a unit of thought that seems to address the second person "You."

Readers cannot know for certain what significance that odd punctuation might have had for Dickinson; therefore, modern readers must simply omit the quotation marks as they begin the poem.

The poem features four stanzas; the first two are innovative cinquains, the third is an innovative sestet, and the fourth is a Dickinsonian quatrain. The poem dramatizes the theme of God’s love as mystery.

"Why do I love" You, Sir?

"Why do I love" You, Sir?
Because —
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows — and
Do not You —
And We know not —
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so —

The Lightning — never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut — when He was by —
Because He knows it cannot speak —
And reasons not contained —
— Of Talk —
There be — preferred by Daintier Folk —

The Sunrise — Sire — compelleth Me —
Because He's Sunrise — and I see —
Therefore — Then —
I love Thee —

Commentary

The speaker of Dickinson's oddly punctuated poem uses logic to demonstrate the reasoning that leads the created soul to love for its Creator.

First Stanza: Unavoidable Love

"Why do I love" You, Sir?
Because —
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

The speaker seems to be talking to God, calling Him "Sir," and questioning Him as to why she loves Him. Then the speaker replies with her own answer, "Because— / The Wind does not require the Grass / To answer."

However, in order to completely respond to this amazing mystery, the speaker finds it necessary to compare her feelings with phenomena of nature. She decides to compare her love to the act of love the grass possesses.

The grass simply cannot prevent itself from undergoing its waving motion after the wind has blown through it. The speaker's love for her Creator God is just simply natural. There can be no questioning it. Of course, she will continue to question and answer. That's just the way she rolls!

Second Stanza: The Wisdom of Love

Because He knows — and
Do not You —
And We know not —
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so —

In the second stanza , the speaker avers that God as Father, and Christ, along with all she knows about anything, hold the "Wisdom" motivating the love in the soul of the created children for their Creator. Nothing more is necessary, because everything is enfolded in that love and wisdom.

Third Stanza: Why Remains Irrelevant

The Lightning — never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut — when He was by —
Because He knows it cannot speak —
And reasons not contained —
— Of Talk —
There be — preferred by Daintier Folk —

In the third stanza, the speaker returns to describing phenomena of nature to explicate the "why": she reveals that that love eruption is akin to lightning striking the eye. The eye will stop to ask why as it closes from the onslaught of light's brilliance.

Intimately coalescing occurrences do not motivate one to ask why. They just are. Or it is so obvious that no one has ever in history bothered to question it. The speaker is nevertheless still aware that human minds crave reasons for things and events.

The human mind wants to discuss and declaim about the ineffable, even though the ineffable will never be "contained— / —Of Talk." The mind may be likened to "Daintier Folk," who wish everything to be clarified in words, despite the fact that words often cannot perform that feat.

Fourth Stanza: The Logic of Loving One's Creator

The Sunrise — Sire — compelleth Me —
Because He's Sunrise — and I see —
Therefore — Then —
I love Thee —

The love of God, for this speaker, remains quite uncomplicated: as the sun rises, her eyes perceive light. As the Creator creates, the speaker loves. To her mind, only the completely daft can question the logic of loving one's Creator.

The text I use for the commentaries

The text I use for the commentaries

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why does the poem have such an odd title?

Answer: Readers cannot know for certain what significance that odd punctuation might have had for Dickinson; therefore, modern readers must simply omit the quotation marks as they begin the poem.

Question: What is the theme of Emily Dickinson's "'Why do I love' You, Sir?"?

Answer: The poem dramatizes the theme of God’s love as a mystery.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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