NaPoMo: Reflections on Emily Dickinson

This post was originally published in October 2013, but I decided to resurrect it for National Poetry Month. I was looking for a favorite poem to post and this one came to mind…so then I figured I might as well include my short essay, haha. 

I am taking this MOOC (massive open online course) on Modern and Contemporary Poetry which is just amazing. I’ve always enjoyed classic poetry but never really got into the newer stuff. Until now, that is. The format of this course is great, I love the group discussions and interaction between all the participants. One of the first writing assignments was to analyze this poem by Emily Dickinson, I taste a liquor never brewed. Grappling with a poem’s meaning in order to write about it was a very rewarding process. I gleaned so much understanding of Dickinson through this essay.


I taste a liquor never brewed —

From Tankards scooped in Pearl —

Not all the Vats upon the Rhine

Yield such an Alcohol!


Inebriate of Air — am I —

And Debauchee of Dew —

Reeling — thro endless summer days —

From inns of Molten Blue —


When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door —

When Butterflies — renounce their “drams”

I shall but drink the more!


Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —

And Saints — to windows run —

To see the little Tippler

Leaning against the — Sun —

~ Emily Dickinson



Exuberant and Unrestrained Celebration of Nature  

Savannah Liston | September 2013

This poem is a celebration of the pleasure which comes from experiencing nature. Emily Dickinson uses extravagant language to depict the abandonment and release that comes with interacting with nature. This essay will cover several aspects of the celebration Dickinson describes.

Firstly, the source of her exuberance is a “liquor never brewed.” Brewing is an intentional human act to produce alcohol, and the absence of human activity in creating this liquor is the first signal of its natural origin. In the second line, the tankards are not filled with man-made drink, but with pearl. Again, pearls are created entirely without human input, and it is this rich product of the natural world that Emily consumes. She then compares the liquor to “the vats upon the Rhine,” declaring that there is none which is equal to her liquor never brewed.

After describing the qualities of her drink, Emily describes the result this liquor has upon herself. Maintaining the metaphor of intoxication, she makes her source more obvious by speaking of the air and dew. This brings to mind images of the countryside and fresh, natural spaces–the polluted and dirty air of an industrialized city would not inspire such revelry. The word “reeling” suggests someone who has lost their balance or control of their limbs—falling or stumbling without purpose. This unsteady wandering continues through “endless summer days”—yet another extravagant description of her experience. It seems that “from inns of molten blue” refers to the sky, and there are two important aspects to this interpretation. The word “inns” can suggest a place of shelter and rest. From one day to another Emily finds the sky her covering. Also, traditionally “inns” function as taverns which fits into the theme of liquor, so this phrase can be taken to mean Emily has a continual source of exhilaration.

Emily compares her intemperance to that of other creatures, and concludes the third verse by asserting that though others drink and are satisfied she will never cease. There is a rebellious disregard of convention in the poem, clearly demonstrated in this verse. When those who are reasonable and moderate bring their festivities to an end, Emily refuses to submit.

In the final verse, Emily speaks of the response to her celebrations. Her jubilation is so wild and excessive that she gets the attention of the heavens. The “seraphs swing their snowy hats”—presumably to watch her—while “saints to windows run.” She makes a somewhat self-deprecating description of herself as “the little tippler/Leaning against the — Sun —”. This suggests the attitude of a mischievous child, glorying in the excess of her experience and waiting for the world to see her abandonment.

Overall, this poem is an expression of Emily’s fascination with nature and her contempt of restrained propriety.



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