Baffled for just a day or two--

EDJE is an ongoing experiment in a mode of criticism that, instead of an explication of a text, offers something closer to a translation, or transformation, or reply to it.

The left column gives poems by Emily Dickinson, numbered according to R. W. Franklin’s edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Harvard 1998). The right column is by me. To learn more about the project, click here.


Baffled for just a day or two--
Embarrassed--not afraid--
Encounter in my garden
An unexpected Maid.

She beckons, and the woods start--
She nods, and all begin--
Surely, such a country
I was never in!

Whence enchantment? A bird “come back”? A “baffled” late flower, a rose? 

The poem is a mystery of encounter, a magic agency mobile. Like bewitched beings, participles stiffen to nouns, and leave their bodies. Who is baffled, who embarrassed? What is certain is that the garden is the portal to the strangest of other worlds.


Delayed till she had ceased to know--
Delayed till in it's vest of snow
Her loving bosom lay--
An hour behind the fleeting breath--
Later by just an hour than Death--
Oh lagging Yesterday!

Could she have guessed that it w'd be--
Could but a crier of the joy
Have climbed the distant hill--
Had not the bliss so slow a pace
Who knows but this surrendered face
Were undefeated still?

Oh if there may departing be
Any forgot by Victory
In her imperial round--
Show the this meek appareled thing
That could not stop to be a king--
Doubtful if it be crowned!

There are those who leave us unsaved. They are not sure of their state, doubtful that they are crowned. They are defeated, surrendered. For these, the news of joy delivered from the far country, is always too late, always an hour too late. These don their vests of snow.

Some things that fly there be--
Birds--Hours--the Bumblebee--
Of those no Elegy.

Some things that stay there be--
Nor this behooveth me.

There are that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the Riddle lies!

The poem moves by threes, but manifests an incomprehension of how one moves past one and two. First, flight and evanescence, all that is lost without elegy. Second, the unchanging: the eternity of grief, old as the hills. [No elegy here, either: grief is of a different substance than elegy, which is its answer]. But there must be a third term, a movement of uprising, where what is resting rises. And what is that? It is lost to syntactic ellipsis: [those, creatures, entities, things, souls]: “There are [X] that resting, rise.” The poet tries to read the mystery of this third possibility, but confesses failure: “Can I expound the skies?” There is apparently no movement, no sign of this transformation, a movement neither absolute change nor absolute changelessness. “How still the Riddle lies.” But behind the image of a movement tensed but unreleased lies another meaning of lies—deceives, distracts, baffles:  and it does it “still” and always.