Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | It's all I have to bring today— | Summary

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Summary

The speaker says all she has to bring to the reader are the poem and her heart but then adds she's bringing the fields and meadows as well. She urges the reader to tally up all she's bringing, including the bees in the clover.

The pronoun this in the second line refers to the poem itself, which the speaker at first implies modestly is not much to "bring" because it is "all" she has. But when she adds to it her heart, along with all the wide fields and meadows and the bees in the clover, she suggests the opposite: she is bringing everything of importance she could possibly bring.

This poem consists of two four-line stanzas of ballad meter. In most of her poem, Dickinson typically uses ballad meter, which consists of four-line stanzas (or quatrains) of iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter: the syllable count of the four lines is therefore 8, 6, 8, 6. Ballad meter is similar to common meter, which is the meter of many Protestant hymns, such as "Amazing Grace." In common meter the first and third lines of each stanza rhyme as do the second and fourth, making the rhyme scheme ABAB. Common meter also tends to be strictly metrical because it forms the basis of hymns sung in church. However, because Dickinson tends to rhyme only the second and fourth lines of each stanza (resulting in a rhyme scheme of ABCB) and is less strictly metrical, it is more accurate to say she uses ballad meter.

Analysis

The modest, apologetic tone of the opening line at first misleads the reader, who soon understands the speaker is using verbal irony in an understatement: what the speaker brings is incalculably vast. Little by little the speaker adds to the initial This as the reader comes to recognize all she mentions.

In line 5 the speaker again takes a humble tone, urging readers to be sure to "count" because she may forget to do so. In line 6 the use of internal rhyme, in the form of homophones, increases the significance of the word sum. But the reader comes to realize the verbal irony, for what is to be counted is uncountable: all the fields, all the meadows, all the bees in the clover, not to mention her heart and this poem. In Dickinson's poetry the image of bees often suggests the irrepressible fecundity of nature. The uses of the word all in the third, fourth, and seventh lines serve to create a sense of the immensity of what she is bringing. Who indeed could "tell" (count) such a "sum"?

In many poems Dickinson portrays nature as her heaven on earth, and here she shows it as limitless and beyond comprehension. In another example of verbal irony, the speaker says she is bringing all these things—fields, meadows, bees—but all she is bringing is the poem, which is but a picture of the things she describes. This concept of the power of a single poem typifies her thoughts about literature, as she reveals later in "There is no Frigate like a Book."

In this poem Dickinson deviates from iambic meter in the second, third, and seventh lines, all of which begin with "This, and my heart." The word This is a single stressed syllable, whereas the next three words form an anapest (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable). Such variations are typical of ballad meter and in this case emphasize the word This, which refers to the poem.

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