Emily Dickinson, “To make a prairie” (1755)

To make a prairie (1755)
Emily Dickinson

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.


Why make a prairie? In any case, to put it in gamer terms, 1 prairie = 1 clover + 1 bee. No, not quite right; our speaker hesitates and corrects herself. It’s really 1 clover + 1 bee + revery = 1 prairie. Then she changes her mind again: finally, “the revery alone will do.”

“If bees are few,” then what of the fact we started with one bee to begin with? It is tempting to read out the clover and the bee entirely from the poem. Only the reverie matters. The trouble with this logic is that we throw out the physical for the mental. Even the prairie disappears on this reading.

The question that matters is why any of this is being said. We can imagine a speaker looking at a vast expanse of prairie. Wild grass and sky and the world – the entire world – is alive. We humans seem utterly unnecessary. Creation seems so powerful in what is least. Just one clover and one bee could start the process whereby earth becomes field upon field and blossoms.

It’s amazing, but why exactly? The vastness of the prairie isn’t being looked at. It’s impossible to take in completely. The one observing is imagining as she is seeing. This doesn’t mean that there is no hard distinction between observation and imagination. It does mean that wonder is unique to the fusion, and note the result. Not a flowering, not a culmination, just a beginning. The imagination may be a cycle unto itself, once started.


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