Saturday, September 19, 2009

I taste a liquor never brewed

I taste a liquor never brewed--
From Tankards scooped in Pearl--
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air-- am I--
And Debauchee of Dew--
Reeling-- thro' endless summer days--
From inns of molten Blue--

When "Landlords" turn the drunken bee
Out of the Foxglove's door--
Whe Butterflies-- renounce their "drams"--
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats--
And Saints-- to windows run--
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the-- Sun!
(F 207)

This poem is often mistaken as one of Dickinson's nice little poems about nature, lauding the joy and finding inebriation and sheer pleasure in the sky and the spring. Worse yet, it is often taken as a sort of transcendentalist approach, one of the few times Dickinson's work is ever supposedly meshed with the likes of Emerson or Whitman.

What a close reading of this poem reveals, however, is the exact opposite. Dickinson rejects the transcendentalist idea of embracing nature and becoming one with it and with all life. There is no union with a higher power and transformation through union. This "drunken" speaker takes in the liquor of the skies and the air, when he or she passes by the bee drunk on pollen, it is not enough. There is none of the transcedentalist "urge to merge" as Dr Smokewood would call it. Because all of the natural world the speaker has taken in is not enough, and at the end of the third stanza the speaker still is not sated.

Resting and peace for the speaker comes only in this final stanza when he or she rests against the sun, but in that moment the persona has not found unity. Rather, the angels have rushed to the sides of heaven and are overcome with the need to see the speaker for themselves. The speaker has effectively upset the balance of man and deity, completely distracting even the angels from the glory of God and taking it upon himself or herself. There is not a deification of man through union with God, but rather a side-step of God. In the end, the drunkeness is with power and influence and recognition. It will remain possibly insatiable. There are the parable elements here of an unexpected reversal or the subversion of stereotypes-- the nature transcendence poem veers sharply from the expected route. And the conclusion is left open. The reader does not know what happens next-- if the recognition of the angels is enough or if more is required.

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