Cocoon above! Cocoon below!
Stealthy Cocoon, why hide you so
What all the world suspect?
An hour, and gay on every tree
Your secret, perched in ecstasy
Defies imprisonment!

An hour in Chrysalis to pass,
Then gay above receding grass
A Butterfly to go!
A moment to interrogate,
Then wiser than a “Surrogate,”
The Universe to know!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem Cocoon above! Cocoon below!


  1. Ron Laraon says:

    Cocoon is a reference to a rather glorious perhaps uncircumcised penis and butterfly is her vagina. Not everything Em did was based on spiritual experiences She wasn’t perfect, she was the other woman in an affair, she was the wounded deer leaping highest. Though she would enter the self isolation of chrysalis later in life, she was exploring her sexuality.

  2. Sabrina says:

    From what I gather, this poem was written in 1859, which would mark it before her seclusion. If the theorized date is correct, she would be approximately 29-30 years old, and while definitely into botany and nature, I personally think the poem holds a deeper meaning than enjoying the nature around her.

    This resonates as a poem about the metamorphosis of individuals from hiding behind a bland shell to a vibrant butterfly. Many people hide something about themselves, whether it be trivial or deeply important (and I think we can agree Emily Dickinson herself holds many secrets still). Until we, the butterfly, decide to break free of the cocoon and spread our wings for the world to see, we will always remain closed off and afraid of rejection from the world.

    The thing about butterflies that makes this work so well is that people don’t typically find cocoons beautiful, or even the caterpillars before them, but people love butterflies. The point here is that no matter how fearful we are of showing our true colors to the world, we will soon find that we are loved for them.

    On an additional note, having a universe to know shows how there is an entire world out there to be explored and discovered, but you simply cannot do that from the isolation of a cocoon. You must first be willing to step outside your comfort zone before you can truly explore the world around you to the fullest extent.

    This last piece may come as an odd interpretation given Dickinson secludes herself from the outdoors only a few short years after this was written; however, despite most depictions, Dickinson was not the recluse of lore. She was an avid letter writer, poet, and botanist. Even though she was not leaving the house, she was expanding her mind and exploring the complexities of language and science, both through introspection and correspondence with others.

    Moving away from overarching perspective to a more line-by-line analysis:

    “Cocoon above! Cocoon below!” almost signifies the bountiful nature of them, meaning there is more than just one. This ties back to everyone hiding something, keeping themselves contained instead of being free like a butterfly.

    “Stealthy… suspect?” She asks this cocoon in particular why it’s hiding the butterfly, as everyone knows what is in a cocoon, so why bother hiding it? This can be symbolic as knowing that everyone is hiding something, and because everyone hides something the secret is thus expected, but why not let it out? The world is far more interesting when people don’t try to all act the same.

    “An hour… Defies imprisonment!” The secret you hide, aka your wings, is perched and waiting. That one thing you love, or that one thing you truly are, is waiting there with quivering anticipation to be known. Cocoons on every tree with a secret so exciting and wonderful, happily waiting to burst free from a mundane shell to become what you were always meant to be.

    “An hour… pass” is the metamorphosis. A chrysalis is both the outer shell for a butterfly’s cocoon, but also defined as a transition state. This is the human metamorphosis, growing into who you truly are and developing as an individual.

    “Then… go!” This one cocoon, of the others seen in the trees, has finally given way to a butterfly.

    “A moment… “Surrogate” ” Gathering your surroundings, and testing the waters if you will. The way a butterfly has to fan its wings for a few minutes and dry off before it can begin flying. After stepping into the light after so long in a dark cocoon, people need to get a feel for this new surrounding. The “Surrogate” to my understanding is up to interpretation. I’ve heard it a few different ways, but one that resonates with how I’ve come to interpret the poem is a surrogate in a political or other role. Someone who is a surrogate is a replacement or almost duplicate for a position filled by an original (a substitute). In this case, the butterfly is wiser than any surrogate could be, representing that the individual is more equipped than any copycat to find their own path.

    “The Universe to know!” expresses that there is a whole, huge, beautiful world out there! There is so much to explore that you can’t fully enjoy or comprehend until you take a risk, step out of your comfort zone, and explore what is possible.

    With all this said, I am by far no expert, I just really like Emily Dickinson and her work. There are plenty of possibilities for what this poem could mean, if anything at all, and you should definitely dig around anywhere you can for interpretations!

    • Kirsty says:

      Nice treatment of the progression in thought for this poem! You have uncoiled the psychology and spiritual power in the piece.

  3. RubyAnn says:

    This poem helps me realize how Emily dickinson feels when she stayed in her house for the past 10 years of her life.She spends most of her time writing poem about nature,love,her life, and some other things.I think that the only way she could refresh her memory is by writing all of the things that is happening to her life.She is like a pupa waiting for to be a butterfly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Emily Dickinson better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.