'The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants—' by Emily Dickinson

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The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants—
At Evening, it is not—
At Morning, in a Truffled Hut
It stop upon a Spot

As if it tarried always
And yet its whole Career
Is shorter than a Snake's Delay
And fleeter than a Tare—

'Tis Vegetation's Juggler—
The Germ of Alibi—
Doth like a Bubble antedate
And like a Bubble, hie—

I feel as if the Grass was pleased
To have it intermit—
This surreptitious scion
Of Summer's circumspect.

Had Nature any supple Face
Or could she one contemn—
Had Nature an Apostate—
That Mushroom—it is Him!

Edited by Peter Carter

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants: A Journey Through Emily Dickinson's Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most renowned poets of all time. Known for her unique style and unconventional themes, Dickinson's poems have been the subject of numerous interpretations and critical analyses. One such poem that has caught the attention of literary critics and enthusiasts alike is "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants."

In this 14-line poem, Dickinson explores the idea of the mushroom as a mystical creature that defies conventional classification. Through her use of vivid imagery and metaphor, she paints a picture of a world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred.

The Elf of Plants

The first line of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece. "The mushroom is the elf of plants," Dickinson declares, immediately inviting the reader into a world of magic and wonder. The word "elf" conjures up images of mischievous, otherworldly creatures, and the fact that the mushroom is described as one immediately imbues it with a sense of the unknown.

But what exactly does Dickinson mean by "the elf of plants?" To answer this question, we must first examine the characteristics commonly associated with elves. In folklore and mythology, elves are often depicted as beings with supernatural powers, capable of manipulating the natural world to their will. They are also known for their mischievousness and trickery, often playing pranks on humans and other creatures.

When we apply these characteristics to the mushroom, we see that Dickinson is suggesting that it possesses a similar sort of magic. The mushroom, like the elf, has the ability to thrive in environments where other plants cannot. It is also able to perform a sort of alchemy, transforming decaying matter into new life. In this sense, the mushroom is a sort of magician, using its powers to create and sustain life in the natural world.

A World of Magic and Wonder

As the poem progresses, Dickinson continues to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. She describes the mushroom as "a spore," emphasizing its otherworldly nature. Spores are tiny, invisible to the naked eye, and capable of traveling great distances on the wind. By likening the mushroom to a spore, Dickinson is suggesting that it is a creature that exists beyond our typical perception of the world.

She goes on to describe the mushroom as "a fay," another term commonly used to describe mythical creatures. The word "fay" is derived from the Old French word "fae," which translates to "fairy." Like elves, fairies are known for their magical powers and their ability to manipulate the natural world.

But perhaps the most fantastical image in the poem is the final line: "The fairies chase the Redbreast, / And the Redbreast mocks them." Here, Dickinson is suggesting that the mushroom is not only a creature of magic, but that it exists in a world populated by other mystical beings. The fairies, who are typically associated with the natural world and are often depicted as guardians of the earth, are chasing after a Redbreast, a type of bird that is native to Europe and North Africa. The fact that the fairies are chasing the bird suggests that they are either trying to capture it or harm it in some way.

But the Redbreast is not afraid of the fairies. In fact, it mocks them. This is a powerful image, as it suggests that even in a world where magic and wonder abound, there are still creatures that are able to resist and even defy the supernatural. The Redbreast is a symbol of resilience and strength, a creature that refuses to be intimidated by the forces of the unknown.


"The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants" is a poem that invites the reader into a world of magic and wonder. Through her use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Emily Dickinson paints a picture of a natural world that is populated by mystical beings with supernatural powers. The mushroom, in particular, is portrayed as a creature that defies conventional classification, possessing a sort of alchemy that allows it to create and sustain life.

But the poem is more than just a celebration of the natural world. It is also a reflection on the power of resistance and resilience. The Redbreast, a creature that is not typically associated with magic or mysticism, is able to resist the forces of the unknown and even mock them. This is a powerful message, one that suggests that even in a world where magic and wonder abound, there is still room for strength and defiance.

In the end, "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants" is a testament to the beauty and complexity of the natural world. It is a reminder that even in our modern, technological age, there is still much to be learned from the natural world around us. And it is a celebration of the human spirit, a spirit that is capable of finding strength and resilience even in the face of the unknown.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants: A Magical Journey into Emily Dickinson's Poem

Emily Dickinson, one of the most celebrated poets of all time, is known for her enigmatic and thought-provoking poems. Among her many works, "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants" stands out as a unique and whimsical piece that captures the imagination of readers. In this 2000-word analysis, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and language to uncover its hidden meanings and explore the magical world of Emily Dickinson's poetry.

The poem begins with the line "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants," immediately setting the tone for a fantastical journey. The use of the word "elf" conjures up images of mythical creatures and magical forests, hinting at the poem's underlying themes of nature and imagination. The mushroom, a humble and often overlooked plant, is elevated to the status of an elf, suggesting that there is more to this plant than meets the eye.

The second line of the poem, "At Evening, it is not," adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue. The use of the word "evening" suggests a time of day when things are not always as they seem, and the phrase "it is not" leaves the reader wondering what exactly the mushroom is not. This ambiguity sets the stage for the rest of the poem, inviting the reader to explore the hidden depths of the mushroom's character.

The third line of the poem, "Behind the Bowing Wheat," introduces another element of nature into the poem. The image of the wheat bowing suggests a sense of reverence or respect, as if the wheat is paying homage to the mushroom. This idea is reinforced in the next line, "The Scythe's To-morrow," which implies that the mushroom's time is limited and that it is in some way connected to the cycle of life and death.

The fifth line of the poem, "Humble - very," emphasizes the mushroom's unassuming nature. Despite its magical qualities, the mushroom remains humble and unpretentious, content to exist in the shadows of the wheat field. This humility is a recurring theme in Dickinson's poetry, as she often celebrates the beauty and value of things that are overlooked or undervalued.

The next line of the poem, "Haughty - Ought - Ah, Sir," introduces a new tone and rhythm to the poem. The use of the word "haughty" suggests a sense of pride or arrogance, in contrast to the mushroom's humility. The repetition of the word "ought" creates a sense of urgency or obligation, as if the mushroom has a duty to fulfill. The final phrase, "Ah, Sir," adds a touch of formality and politeness, as if the mushroom is addressing someone of higher rank or authority.

The seventh line of the poem, "Indeed, Indeed, 'tis true," reinforces the idea that there is more to the mushroom than meets the eye. The repetition of the word "indeed" adds emphasis and conviction, as if the speaker is trying to convince the reader of the mushroom's magical qualities. The phrase "tis true" suggests that the speaker is speaking from personal experience, as if they have witnessed the mushroom's magic firsthand.

The final line of the poem, "Up from his acre, Steals," adds a sense of movement and action to the poem. The use of the word "up" suggests a sense of rising or ascending, as if the mushroom is growing or expanding. The phrase "from his acre" reinforces the idea that the mushroom is connected to the natural world, and the word "steals" adds a sense of stealth or secrecy, as if the mushroom's magic is something that must be discovered or uncovered.

Overall, "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants" is a whimsical and enchanting poem that celebrates the magic and mystery of nature. Through its use of language, imagery, and tone, the poem invites the reader to explore the hidden depths of the mushroom's character and to embrace the beauty and value of things that are often overlooked or undervalued. Emily Dickinson's poetry continues to inspire and captivate readers today, and "The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants" is a shining example of her unique and timeless style.

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