Emily Dickinson, “Apology for Her” (852)

“Apology for Her” (852)
Emily Dickinson

Apology for Her
Be rendered by the Bee –
Herself, without a Parliament
Apology for Me.


It’s not hard to see “parle” and “parley” in “Parliament,” in addition to the one (“the Bee”/”Me”)/few (“Parliament”) distinction. The question is what one does with “speech” (parle) or “negotiating” (parley) or “making law” (Parliament). We need to know how “Her” and “Me” relate, and this poem is terribly cryptic on that count.

I think we have to start with “apology,” which is a term loaded in my daily work. I think it’s best to keep “apology” simple here: “Her” was wronged, the speaker was wronged. Given the centrality of “Herself,” we can probably posit that these two wronged each other indirectly. A good working assumption is that we’re talking about two women dealing with a lover.

“The Bee” goes far with that assumption. It spreads the pollen of the flower she (“Her”) is. I think we can guess that “Her” was wronged by the speaker in that her lover had any previous loves; a future of reproduction goes far in assuaging any thoughts she has about his loyalty. The Bee “renders;” that word establishes the physical. No words are needed for “Her.”

Our speaker is a bit different, definitely a bit jealous. “Without a Parliament” is a cute way of describing the attentions the other woman gets generally. But again, it’s interesting that the speaker would see some of the attention she gets as “Parliament,” as opposed to mere buzzing. The speaker herself has brought up the issue of buzzing!

What “Parliament” seems to be is a mimicry of reflection: I think we have to read into “Her-self,” and wonder why it begins the second pair of lines. As noted above, we can see “Parliament” representing stages of deliberation: speech, negotiation, law (rules for living). The real issue with someone isn’t when they stay dumb and get all the attention. The problem with them is when they go around telling everyone else that they’re loved so they must have done everything right; they’re smart AND beautiful. Dickinson’s speaker may be considered to be saying something like “talk to the hand, bitch.” Does that mean this poem is only a cryptic insult? (There was this Simpsons episode from long ago where Bart was at genius school and they solved a series of equations in order to show a pun). The main thing about the poem is that if it is a cryptic insult, it’s so cryptic it is anything but insulting. These are two women who lead vastly different lives, and their conflict itself points to its own resolution. No Parliament was needed, the parley was silently effected, and the speaker is trying to come to terms with what is.

Unrelated: yes, the trashier stuff about Dickinson is important. It is true the Amherst she lived in was filled with affairs and sexual deviance and all sorts of insanity that was awesome. However: one has to be very careful with accounts that are looking to push the envelope – see here for what I’m a bit skeptical of. I think our job as readers is to find what is graceful in her poetry, while not neglecting the very real complications and turmoil. (I also think people need to learn how to read before setting pen to paper, but we’ll talk about that later.)

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