January 27th, 2011
Come slowly – Eden!
Lips unused to Thee –
Bashful – sip thy Jessamines –
As the fainting Bee –
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums –
Counts his nectars –
Enters – and is lost in Balms.
When I first read this poem (#205, pgs. 95-96) I dismissed it as just another ED poem over-Romanticizing nature with personification. Having taken British Romantic Literature and Late 18th Century British Literature, any time I read a poem about nature I feel like my brain goes into auto-pilot. But since ED specifically names a flower, I figured I’d do a little research in the Encyclopedia Britannica and see if that could shake things up a little bit.
Jasmine is best known for its fragrance. It is used in cosmetics, perfumes and in teas. So naturally, as one of the most fragrant flowers, it should be found in Eden, Earth’s paradise. I read that there are many other fragrant families of flowers that masquerade under the name jasmine. How would I figure out which kind ED was referring to? She doesn’t provide any kind of description of the flower her “Bee” is sipping from. But the phrase “Reaching late his flower” made me suspect that she was referring to the primrose jasmine which blooms later in the season and even in the winter sometimes.
Here are some pictures of primrose jasmine blossoms:
Jasmine grows as shrubs with climbing branches. The blossoms are either white or yellow and may be round or heart-shaped. The encyclopedia describes them as “tubular” which helps make the mental picture of a bee actually entering the blossom and getting lost reasonable. Of course that is just a literal understanding of the last line. I’m pretty sure that ED uses “lost” on a deeper level as well.
I actually think that by “lost” ED means that the bee dies. The bee, like the “lips unused” to such richness as Eden, is overwhelmed by the strong, rich fragrance of the blossom. It’s like when you’re dehydrated and the doctor tells you to sip the water when your every instinct tells you to gulp it down. Because if you do, you’ll most likely get sick. The bee, who I think is actually ED, is experiencing sensory over-load. Is it reading too much into it to think that this poem is referring to ED’s super-sensitive psyche? It could be an attempt to make sense of her need for seclusion and safety. Did anyone else come up with a different interpretation?