I DREADED that first robin so,
But he is mastered now,
And 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 ’t was 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.
This is a strange one indeed. The speaker is talking about things that Dickinson typically gets excited about–robins, daffodils, bees–but instead of anticipating them, she tells us she has “dreaded” them. The robin “hurts a little,” the “pianos in the wood” can “mangle” her, the daffodils’ yellow can “pierce” her. If it’s aware of her needs, Nature ignores them, showing no deference to her feelings. She is the “Queen of Calvary”–the queen of suffering? The queen of salvation? What exactly does this mean?
Such a strange poem. The speaker describes the beauties of spring as torments and herself as “bereaved.” What is she grieving? Does the freshness and new life of spring remind her of something she can’t have, something she lost? Why does spring hurt?
There is something in these early days of spring–some underlying coldness on the sunniest days, some lingering frost–that reminds us that spring is not forever. Of all the beauties of the year, spring’s somehow seem the most fleeting, the most fragile. Blossoms are easily crushed, and bees may live for only weeks or days. Perhaps it’s this ephemerality that pains Dickinson–the knowledge that all this beauty, from the moment it bursts forth, is already passing into memory.