friday feast: emily dickinson’s poetry of flowers

“Earth is crammed with heaven.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Please help yourself to Emily’s rice cakes and a cup of green tea.

Hello Spring, is that really you? 🙂

Today we’re greeting the somewhat reluctant, much-awaited season of renewal, rebirth, and regrowth with a little help from esteemed poet Emily Dickinson.

I’m sure you know she was fond of sending friends and acquaintances fragrant bouquets with notes or verses tucked in them, sometimes with a gift of food.

What could be sweeter than homemade gingerbread or coconut cake, nasturtiums and peonies from her garden, and a heartfelt verse she’d penned just for you?

from the New York Botanical Gardens Emily Dickinson Exhibit (2010)

Though she may have eschewed personal contact with people outside the family, Emily was able to sustain longstanding friendships and express romantic inclinations on her own terms. She cultivated and excelled in all three of these pursuits — gardening, baking, writing — as a normal course of each day, all of them requiring practiced skill, time and devotion.

According to Judith Farr’s The Gardens of Emily Dickinson (Harvard University Press, 2004), over a third of her poems and nearly half of her letters “allude with passionate intensity to her favorite wildflowers, to traditional blooms like the daisy or gentian, and to the exotic gardenias and jasmines of her conservatory.”

In accordance with the prevailing floral language of her time, Emily associated various flowers with certain friends, family members and lovers. Her beloved blooms inspired metaphors, gave her images, “themes, narrative tropes, and an elaborate and rich language that related her to other artists.”

Indeed, Emily called her poems “blossoms of the brain,” and not surprisingly, she was more widely known in her village as a gardener than a poet. Enjoy this little bouquet of poesy and posies reminiscent of Emily’s garden at the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Click images for web sources.)

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If we love Flowers, are we not ‘born again’ every Day . . .

(to Mrs. George S. Dickerman, 1886)


Perhaps you’d like to buy a flower?
But I could never sell.
If you would like to borrow
Until the daffodil
Unties her yellow bonnet
Beneath the village door,
Until the bees, from clover rows
Their hock and sherry draw,
Why, I will lend until just then,
But not an hour more!



The Dandelion’s pallid Tube
Astonishes the Grass –
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas –
The Tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower –
The Proclamation of the suns
That sepulture is o’er –

Emily doted on the humble dandelion, and loved wildflowers as much as cultivated ones.


The Daisy follows soft the Sun –
And when his golden walk is done –
Sits shily at his feet –
He – waking – finds the flower there –
Wherefore – Marauder – art thou here?
Because, Sir, love is sweet!

We are the flower – Thou the Sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline –
We nearer steal to Thee!
Enamored of the parting West –
The peace – the flight – the amethyst –
Night’s possibility!

Emily was attracted to married publisher and editor Samuel Bowles, who called her “Daisy.”
Emily cherished the white jasmine plant given to her by Samuel Bowles, tending it for decades.



Upon a Lilac Sea
To toss incessantly
His Plush Alarm
Who fleeing from the Spring
The Spring avenging fling
To Dooms of Balm


Roses and honeysuckle graced trellises on the Dickinson estate.

SEPAL, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn,
A flash of dew, a bee or two,
A breeze
A caper in the trees, —
And I’m a rose!

Roses are the most frequently mentioned flowers in Emily’s writings.


On their first meeting, Emily greeted literary mentor, editor and correspondent Thomas Wentworth Higginson with two daylilies. She identified with them (her auburn hair) and they supposedly symbolized coquetry.


I hide myself within my flower,
That fading from your Vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me —
Almost a loneliness.


Sweet Williams

“There is no conceivable beauty of blossom so beautiful as words — none so graceful, none so perfumed.” ~ Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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We’re serving a special tea today called “Emily’s Garden Jasmine,” a poetic blend of green tea with floral notes of jasmine, chamomile and sweet leaf.

It’s part of Steep Show Teas’ “Literary Collection,” flavors which are meant to evoke the spirits of some of the world’s finest writers including Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman. Each of these loose leaf blends is beautifully packaged with a portrait of the author and an excerpt of his/her writing.

Steep Show Teas is owned by poet and art historian Diane Shipley deCillis and her husband Lou, a professional chef. You may remember when I shared Diane’s delectable “Opera Buffa” and her recipe for Panna Cotta. Isn’t it wonderful how they’ve merged a fine arts palette with a culinary arts palate in the name of unique teas and tisanes?

Today’s Rice Cakes are a family recipe that’s included in a pamphlet available from the Dickinson Museum called Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as Cook. 

Rice Cakes were saved and served to guests who dropped in for tea, and Emily also sent these to her future sister-in-law Sue Gilbert when she was teaching in Baltimore.

They have a delicate flavor and are a simple gluten-free treat to enjoy while sipping tea and reading Emily’s poems.

Rice Cakes

  • 1 cup ground rice (rice flour)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 spoonful milk with 1/4 teaspoon soda
  • flavor to suit (teaspoon mace or nutmeg)

Cream butter. In a separate bowl beat eggs. Add sugar to eggs. Gently blend with butter. Add remaining ingredients. Bake in an 8 x 8 square pan at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

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Sweet Peas

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Miss Emily, a brand new middle grade verse novel by Amherst author, teacher, and Homestead volunteer Burleigh Mutén, is officially hitting shelves on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Pleased to announce that Burleigh has agreed to drop by soon to tell us all about her wonderful book!


♥ I will be posting a roundup of  2014 Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events here at Alphabet Soup. If you are doing something special and would like to be included, please email me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. I will be updating the Roundup throughout the month of April. Please help spread the word. Thanks!

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poetryfriday180The warm, lovely and talented Julie Larios is hosting the Roundup at The Drift Record. Take her a couple of rice cakes and enjoy all the delicious poetic offerings in the blogsophere this week. Are you wearing white? 🙂

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts.


Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

76 thoughts on “friday feast: emily dickinson’s poetry of flowers

  1. My day just got so much better (I know it’s only 8 a.m.) I loved the bits of poems, the flowers, especially those daisy-like ones with the greeny centers by the rice cakes, seeing Burleigh’s delightful verse novel, and the best quote ever from Mr. Higginson. And while awaiting for actual blossoms here (a friend just south mentioned a crocus-sighting on Facebook, and we all crowded around, asking what colors) I think I need to check out Steep Show Teas! Thank you!


    1. Not sure if those are daisies or mums (?) — A dashing mustached gentleman, Len R. Bowles, brought them to me. 🙂

      We can only have daffodils here because of the deer — and the shoots have only just come up. Spring is tardy this year! She’s playing coy and wants to be coaxed.

      Please say hello to Burleigh for me when you see her tomorrow.


  2. Gorgeous photos! I like that Miss Dickinson identified with daylilies 🙂 “Wherefore – Marauder – art thou here?
    Because, Sir, love is sweet!” — sigh.


  3. A beautiful springlike post! Ah…
    What are rice cakes like? I imagine the texture of cornbread with the taste of mushy Rice Krispies. I shall have to make them and find out!


    1. The texture is kind of like cornbread, but less gritty (I used Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground White Rice Flour). I might have overbaked mine (18 minutes). Easy to make, worth trying just out of curiosity.


  4. It’s a beautiful post to wake to, Jama. We have green shoots, but not even buds are appearing yet-soon! I love the daisy/love poem. She lets us “in” through her words, doesn’t she? I was in a nursery once and followed this heavenly scent, to discover Jasmine-such a wonderful thing, still remember. The verse novel will be something to find soon! Thanks for bringing spring to us today.


    1. Everyone is anxiously awaiting those first buds, those first blooms. It’s been a hard, long winter all over. We usually see bluebirds by now.

      I found Ms. Karr’s book very interesting. Emily was able to “garden” year round by forcing bulbs in her conservatory. Quite a feat to keep a jasmine vine alive for decades in New England. Would have been wonderful to see all the exotic flowers she grew in her conservatory. Gardenias always remind me of Hawai’i. 🙂


  5. Jama, you’re killing me with those gorgeous photos. It is so grey here this morning…

    I’m ready, though. Bring on spring. And, Emily’s favorite insect–Bee!


  6. Pretty-pretty!
    I do want to try that rice cake dish in a cast iron skillet with almond flour — it sounds like the beginnings of a kind of floaty, light tea cake, to me — and sounds delicate enough to go with that lovely tea.

    I want to live in the photographs you post on your blog….


    1. It would be interesting with almond flour. It’s not a sweet cake at all and complements the tea, with its fragrant aroma, nicely.


    1. There’s so much more to her than we all think. I’ve just started reading White Heat, which focuses on her relationship with Mr. Higginson. The author profiles Emily as a flirt and sorceress rather than a retiring recluse. 🙂


    1. Now that you’ve been adequately cleansed, I’ll send Colin and Brad over with your rice cakes and tea. Bask in the luxury :).


  7. Exactly the post I needed to read today, Jama – the blossoms and wonders of Spring, in blooms and in poetry. Emily’s power of noticing is just so amazing when it comes to her poems about flowers, I think. So stunning, that she looked so closely and discovered such wonders! Thank you for another delightful Poetry Friday gift.


    1. It’s been a joy to read more of her flower poems. They do reveal a keen awareness, interest in, and profound love for her flowers — every stage of their growth.


  8. Oh dearest Jama, there is so much beauty here, my soul is filled with spring blossoms and the breath of dandelions (which incidentally remind me of Berlin and Prague in spring). I will share your post with Iphigene who is a huge fan of Dickinson. It’s also my daughter’s spring break – we are looking forward to just relaxing and resting and perhaps a quick day trip to Malacca too. 🙂


  9. Wow! From gorgeous photos to fragrant tea to moist cakes and topped off with Emily Dickinson! Fabulous post. Happy spring and the hope found in the awakening garden.


  10. Ah, to wake up and smell the roses… thanks for the lovely walk through Emily’s gardens, Jama darling…


  11. Thank you for this post today, when the calendar and my heart both say spring, but the earth says not just yet.


    1. Hi Kirsten! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Have a beautiful Spring!

      P.S. Congrats on Bright Coin Moon! Awesome :).


  12. This was so lovely, as always! Did you take the gorgeous flower photos yourself? I enjoyed learning about the gardening side of Emily Dickinson. It’s refreshing to hear about a poet who wasn’t morose all of the time!


    1. The flower photos were taken by different individuals and link back to their original web sources.

      I enjoy learning about her gardening prowess as well as her baking skills. Burleigh Muten’s new children’s book shows an entirely different side of Emily. Who knew she was so playful and mischievous?


  13. What a lovely post, Jama. Her descriptions are just stunning. And this recipe looks deceptively simple, like her poetry. I’d almost be afraid to try it!


    1. It really is a simple recipe, but of course after you’ve eaten a few rice cakes, you may be compelled to wear white all the time. 🙂


  14. What a beautiful start to spring! We were just warm enough this week to get started in the garden. Clean-up work so far, but it won’t be long before we’ll be able to start some planting.


  15. Such beautiful pictures Jama! I especially love Foxglove. With our extreme heat we don’t plant many flowers in the garden and this winter’s extreme cold (for us) killed many of my bushes. I’m so sad! So I’ll just enjoy your pictures.


    1. Sorry to hear about your bushes, Trish. We don’t plant flowers because the deer eat everything. So I have to enjoy pictures too. I love foxglove, but don’t think I’ve ever seen any in person.


  16. What a beautiful post for this windy, cold Sunday! I love “If we love Flowers are we not ‘born again’ every Day…” and “blossoms of the brain.” Looking forward to reading about the verse novel and, of course, your round up of Poetry Month events! Thank you, Jama, for a bit of spring today!


    1. Glad you enjoyed the quotes and flowers, Catherine. I love Burleigh’s book and am excited about interviewing her. Happy Spring! 🙂


  17. Oh my gosh, tea and flowers and Emily Dickinson – three of my most favorite things!! Green tea with jasmine is one of my favorites. Happy spring, Jama!!


  18. Jama, My husband pulled up the dandelions this weekend. While cheery yellow flowers, they tend to spread their seeds too quickly. I can’t wait to make the rice cake recipe.


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