“The Rose did caper on her cheek—”

The Rose did caper on her cheek—
Her Bodice rose and fell—
Her pretty speech—like drunken men—
Did stagger pitiful—

Her fingers fumbled at her work—
Her needle would not go—
What ailed so smart a little Maid—
It puzzled me to know—

Till opposite—I spied a cheek
That bore another Rose—
Just opposite—Another speech
That like the Drunkard goes—

A Vest that like her Bodice, danced—
To the immortal tune—
Till those two troubled—little Clocks
Ticked softly into one.

As with most of Emily Dickinson’s poetry this poem was introduced after her death in 1896 when it was included in the publication of The Poems of Emily Dickinson Series Two Boston by the Roberts Brothers. Dickinson introduces us into the world of youthful adulthood with their first taste of emotional and sexual feelings. She presents the poem in the traditional ballad or hymn form consisting of alternating iambic tetrameter.

She begins with the presentation of an abashed young woman speaking to a group of individuals but it is questioning as to why she blushes. Dickinson uses the term caper, to skip or dance, to represent the steady spreading of color across her cheeks. The Rose to which Dickinson refers is identifiable as the rosy color that appears in ones cheeks when embarrassed. She reinforces the female embodiment with the reference to the woman’s Bodice, which was the portion above the waist on a dress, and it’s rising and falling caused by heavy breathing. Dickinson continues to show the embarrassment of the woman by creating a comparison of her speech to that of drunken men. She writes “Her pretty speech – like drunken men – Did stagger pitiful.” She continues to represent her inability to maintain her speech by presenting the imagery of her needlework. She who is typically a smart maid, as told by Dickinson, “so smart a Little Maid,” begins to become unable to carefully guide her needle because of her quivering hands.

The overall question pertaining to this topic of embarrassment within the maid is the question of why. Dickinson creates a wonder as to what “ailed” the little maid, which in this instance pertains to one’s mind. Proceeding the asking of this question she turns her attention to the others gathered for the her speech. From the faces across the room, she encounters one, “That bore another Rose – Just opposite.” Using the connection of the Rose, she connects a young man who begins his own speech exactly opposite of the maid. This introduces the birth of young love becoming intertwined. Dickinson creates the same relationship of the young man’s speech to those of drunkards, similar with the maid.

She finalizes their relationship by speaking of the similar patterns of rising and falling of the Bodice to that of the young man’s Vest. Dickinson relates both their speeches and their connections to that of the dancing “To the immortal tune-.” Love is often depicted as immortal so it shows the shared embarrassment of their new found feelings, while showing that their dance will never end as Love is an immortal and every changing song. Dickinson then continues to bring in the component of time and love by the imagery of clocks. She labels the lovers as “two troubled – little Clocks.” and through this she shows that although their clocks may be set to different times, at some point through the progression of time their clocks will be in sync one day. She ends the poem by saying the two clocks “Ticked softly into one,” finalizing that these two were meant to be together. Their clocks will no longer be separate but as one clock counting down the remaining days of their physical relationship, and making their love eternal.

—Rose O’Callaghan

Bibliography and Further Reading Erin Mull. The Rose Did Caper (2012 Prezi. Web); Justin Thomas  and Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (London, Little Brown, 1998. Print); Susan Kornfeld. The Prowling Bee: The Rose did caper on her cheek- (March 2012 Web); Educational Technology Clearinghouse. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two (2012 Web);

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