The wealthy fly

I envy seas whereon he rides,
I envy spokes of wheels
Of chariots that him convey,
I envy speechless hills

That gaze upon his journey; 5
How easy all can see
What is forbidden utterly
As heaven, unto me!

I envy nests of sparrows
That dot his distant eaves, 10
The wealthy fly upon his pane,
The happy, happy leaves

That just abroad his window
Have summer’s leave to be,
The earrings of Pizarro 15
Could not obtain for me.

I envy light that wakes him,
And bells that boldly ring
To tell him it is noon abroad,—
Myself his noon could bring, 20

Yet interdict my blossom
And abrogate my bee,
Lest noon in everlasting night
Drop Gabriel and me.

~Emily Dickinson

Ah, unrequited love. The first five stanzas follow a distinct pattern–the speaker envies anything and everything that is close to her beloved. There is a definite undertone of Shakespeare’s balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet here, with Romeo’s longing to be a glove on Juliet’s hand so that he could be close to her. Dickinson, of course, gets more extensive and unexpected in her wishes–the fly outside the beloved’s window is “wealthy.”

Unlike Romeo, however, the speaker of this poem ends her expressions of longing with a surprising twist–after suggesting that she could make her beloved happy, she asks in the final stanza that it not be so, “Lest noon in everlasting night/ Drop Gabriel and me.” After stanzas of unrequited longing, she switches gears. There is something very Puritanical about this–don’t let me be happy, because if I am happy then I could become unhappy, and that would be worse. The “noon” of a relationship between them might end in “everlasting night.”

This poem, though it feels very conventional on the surface, seems to be riffing on and playing with older poetic conventions. Dickinson expands the metaphors for love to the prosaic and even slightly distasteful (Oh, that I were a fly upon his windowpane…). She also turns the poem on its head in the final stanza. I’m reminded of the cliché that “it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.” Dickinson suggests here that it’s better to have loved but never been requited than to have loved and lost. Or maybe she feels she’s lost before she’s even begun.