I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I’m accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —
I thought If I could only live
Till that first Shout got by —
Not all Pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me —
I dared not meet the Daffodils —
For fear their Yellow Gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own —
I wished the Grass would hurry —
So — when ’twas time to see —
He’d be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch — to look at me —
I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?
They’re here, though; not a creature failed —
No Blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me —
The Queen of Calvary —
Each one salutes me, as he goes,
And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums —
To the comment # 22 I disagree, Emily Dickinson, never married!
The spring comes back in triumph to me, its humble queen.
It is easy to read this poem in any number of ways, as it is for all of Dickinson’s poems — that’s why we love them so much! 🙂 — but perhaps it should be read both ways.
Dickinson lost several people very close to her, and a poem about bereavement would not be amiss. If you read it as spring embodying life, then spring would be a sort of slap to the face if she has just experienced a painful death. She is mourning, and in pain, but the rest of the world is laughing at her, and proceeding on with spring … “They’re here, though; not a creature failed – / No Blossom stayed away / In gentle deference to me – / The Queen of Calvary – ”
Dickinson was not particularly religious, so the reference to Calvary, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, is probably a parallel to death and not religion. If applied in that light, she would appear to be saying, “All I know is death. I’m still in mourning, I haven’t moved on … and yet spring comes anyway, it cares nothing for my own sorrows.”
However — it if you read it as Robin is a man, not a bird, the meaning changes full circle. (Readings of this sort can be seen with “I like a look of Agony” as well.) It could be read as a sexual relationship from start to finish, but it would have to be a fairly unfortunate one, for the ending, “Each one salutes me, as he goes,” would imply that it was a casual encounter that meant more for her than it did for Robin.
If it is read as purely a relationship, it fits a little better with the story of Dickinson’s life. There is evidence that she was in love, perhaps several times, but no indications that these relationships where ever actuated, much less made physical. The dread of the first Robin could be seen as the uncertainty of her first true relationship, and a belief that if she could bear the first awkward phase, that it would be better afterward. The Daffodils could be other women or friends who disapprove of her choice, the Grass stanza a wish for him to come and see her. The Bees could be a metaphor for “busy-bees,” or gossips, who care little about her and are only interested in the drama. They came anyway, though, and she is hurt by them. Possibly this is a reference to these Bees ruining everything, or ending in some way the relationship with Robin.
There are a thousand ways to read this, and all have their merits … these are the readings I feel have the most evidence to support them. 🙂
Sorry but I can’t go along with any of the “Robin as male lover” ideas. The poem always struck me as dealing with the central tragedy of life — all this beauty is subsumed under the cycle of birth and decay, and the more you long for something, you are unwittingly accentuating the sadness of its inevitable passing. The drums at the end are jolting to the sense, as if the poet has suddenly and unbearably perceived the whole show as a funeral procession.
What makes the death/grieving the best interpretation is that she calls herself the “Queen of Calvary.” Calvary is defined as 1 : an open-air representation of the crucifixion of Jesus 2 : an experience of usually intense mental suffering (MW dictionary). Essentially she is referring to herself as the Queen of Death, hence why spring (symbolizing life) hurts her.
In the first and second stanzas, the first spring (signaled by the robin’s appearance and “pianos in the woods,” birds) is depicted as painful to the speaker, who has just lost someone to death. She is afraid of meeting these blatant symbols of life. Her admission that “he hurts a little though” reveal that her grief has not completely dissolved; her powerlessness to stem the coming of spring (shown by her weary statement “they’re here, though”) also relate this same emotion.
So, as time and nature continue to march on to their “unthinking drums,” the speaker is forced to acknowledge that life must go on.
I think Emily Dickinson is talking bollocks.
Whats she mean by “not all pianos in the woods?”
If we carefully look at this poem we can see that although it appears to be a poem that could be seem as feminist, that there is a running theme of a male presence throughout ‘I dreaded that first robin so’. One interpretation is of males being the ‘robin’, the ‘pianos in the woods’, the ‘daffodils’, the ‘grass’ and the ‘bees’. These things in nature could be personified as a man as they all affect Emily Dickinson in some way, whether it is a fear of a sexual act or of falling in love. The poem also has the fear of nature coming round again which brings her closer to death, which is another thing she is fearful of.
Emily Dickinson can also refer to the ‘he’ that ‘salutes her’ and goes by her as any man that would not treat her with respect and an ‘unthinking drum’. The ‘tall’ man looking for her in the grass would be ‘the tallest one’ referring to the man as being perhaps God or the Grim Reaper, who she can’t hide from even in nature.
So this poem has a female element shown by Dickinson when she makes references to males that are like bees with stings or daffodils that are foreign to her. As she belives although it is inevitable she will fall in love, she wouldn’t want anyone distrupting her current way of life.
I think Emily based this poem on her own life -specificaly her comming to terms with death. She had many deaths early on in her life which affected her greatly.
She thought if she could get past ‘that first shout’ (of someone dying) it would become easier, and it has done even though He(Death) still ‘hurts a litle’ everytime he comes.
I love the way she inverts the classic notion of spring representing life and new begginings to represent death, especially the daffodils which i picture to be daffodils planted on the graves of those she loved.
I feel that this is about feminism. ‘I