'By a flower—By a letter' by Emily Dickinson

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By a flower—By a letter—
By a nimble love—
If I weld the Rivet faster—
Final fast—above—

Never mind my breathless Anvil!
Never mind Repose!
Never mind the sooty faces
Tugging at the Forge!

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Closer Look into Emily Dickinson's "By a flower—By a letter"

What is it about Emily Dickinson that makes her poetry so enduring? Perhaps it is her ability to capture human emotions in a way that is both familiar and otherworldly. Perhaps it is her unique use of syntax and punctuation that creates a cadence all its own. Whatever the reason, Dickinson's poetry continues to captivate readers more than a century after her death.

One of her most beloved poems is "By a flower—By a letter," a short but powerful piece that captures the essence of longing and unrequited love. At only six lines long, the poem is a masterclass in economy of language, and yet it manages to convey so much feeling in its brevity.

Let's take a closer look at the poem and see what we can uncover about its meaning and significance.

The Text

Here is the poem in its entirety:

By a flower—
By a letter—
By a nimble love—
If I endure
I conquer love,
And love, though little, is enough.

At first glance, the poem appears to be a simple statement of fact. The speaker lists three things that have the power to convey love: a flower, a letter, and a nimble love. The next two lines suggest that enduring this love is a form of conquest, and that even a little love is enough to satisfy the speaker.

But as with many of Dickinson's poems, there is much more going on beneath the surface. Let's unpack some of the key themes and motifs in the poem.

Love as a Conquest

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the idea that enduring love is a form of conquest. This suggests that love is something that must be fought for, earned, and won.

This idea is reinforced by the use of the word "endure." To endure something implies a certain amount of hardship or pain. It suggests that love is not always easy, and that it requires effort and perseverance.

But why must love be a conquest? What is it about the human experience that makes us view love as something to be won or lost? Perhaps it is the inherent vulnerability of love that makes it feel like a risk. When we love someone, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of rejection or heartbreak. By conquering love, we are proving that we are strong enough to withstand that vulnerability.

The Power of Small Things

Another key theme in the poem is the idea that even small things can hold great power. The speaker suggests that a flower or a letter can convey love just as effectively as a grand romantic gesture.

This idea is reinforced by the final line, in which the speaker declares that "love, though little, is enough." This suggests that love need not be grandiose or showy to be meaningful. It is the small moments of tenderness and affection that can have the greatest impact.

This theme is also reflected in Dickinson's use of punctuation. The dashes and ellipses in the poem create a sense of fragmentation and incompleteness, as though the poem itself is made up of small, disconnected moments. This mirrors the idea that love can be found in small gestures and fleeting moments.

Nimble Love

The third item on the speaker's list is "nimble love." This suggests a love that is quick and agile, able to move and adapt with ease.

This idea is reinforced by the poem's structure. The first two lines are structured identically, with "By a" preceding a noun. The third line breaks this pattern with the introduction of "nimble love," which disrupts the rhythm of the poem. This creates a sense of movement and energy, as though the poem is itself nimble and quick-footed.

The use of the word "nimble" also suggests a certain playfulness or lightness. This could be interpreted as a reflection of the speaker's own feelings about love. Rather than viewing love as a heavy burden to be carried, the speaker sees it as something light and joyful.


In "By a flower—By a letter," Emily Dickinson manages to pack a great deal of meaning into just six lines. Through her use of language, punctuation, and structure, she conveys complex ideas about love, vulnerability, and the power of small things.

What is it about this poem that makes it so enduring? Perhaps it is the way in which Dickinson manages to capture the essence of human emotions in such a concise and elegant manner. Or perhaps it is the way in which she reminds us that even the smallest gestures of love can have a profound impact. Whatever the reason, "By a flower—By a letter" continues to resonate with readers today, and will likely continue to do so for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

By a flower—By a letter is a classic poem by Emily Dickinson, one of the most celebrated American poets of the 19th century. This poem is a beautiful reflection on the power of nature and the written word to convey deep emotions and feelings.

The poem begins with the line "By a flower I lingered awhile," which immediately draws the reader's attention to the natural world. Dickinson was known for her love of nature, and this poem is no exception. The flower in question is not named, but it is clear that it has a profound effect on the speaker. The use of the word "linger" suggests that the speaker is taking their time, perhaps even delaying their journey, to appreciate the beauty of the flower.

The second line of the poem, "By a letter I sealed my soul," introduces the theme of communication. The act of sealing a letter is a powerful one, as it suggests that the contents of the letter are deeply personal and important to the writer. The use of the phrase "sealed my soul" suggests that the writer is sharing something very intimate and personal with the recipient of the letter.

The next two lines of the poem, "I shut my eyes and I felt them go / out of my hand in a sigh," suggest that the act of sending the letter is a bittersweet one. The writer is letting go of something very personal and important to them, and they are doing so with a sense of sadness and loss. The use of the word "sigh" suggests that the writer is experiencing a sense of relief, but also a sense of sadness and regret.

The next two lines of the poem, "I leaned against the wall and watched / the shadows on the floor," suggest that the writer is taking a moment to reflect on what they have just done. The act of leaning against the wall suggests that the writer is feeling a sense of exhaustion or weariness, perhaps from the emotional weight of what they have just done. The shadows on the floor suggest that the writer is contemplating the passage of time and the transience of life.

The final two lines of the poem, "By a flower—By a letter— / I breathed on the face of my friend," bring the poem full circle. The flower and the letter are both powerful symbols of communication, and the act of breathing on the face of a friend suggests a deep sense of intimacy and connection. The use of the word "friend" suggests that the writer is sharing something very personal and important with someone they trust and care for deeply.

Overall, By a flower—By a letter is a beautiful and deeply moving poem that explores the power of nature and the written word to convey deep emotions and feelings. Dickinson's use of language is simple yet powerful, and her ability to capture the essence of human experience is unparalleled. This poem is a testament to her skill as a poet and her ability to connect with readers on a deeply emotional level.

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