'What tenements of clover' by Emily Dickinson

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What tenements of clover
Are fitting for the bee,
What edifices azure
For butterflies and me—
What residences nimble
Arise and evanesce
Without a rhythmic rumor
Or an assaulting guess.

Edited by Peter Carter

Editor 1 Interpretation

What Tenements of Clover by Emily Dickinson: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Ah, Emily Dickinson. The queen of enigma. The mistress of elusive poetry. The writer whose work has puzzled and fascinated readers for generations. In this essay, we will delve into one of her lesser-known poems, "What Tenements of Clover," and try to unravel its mysteries. What does it mean? What is its message? What can we learn from it?

Context and Background

Before we begin our analysis, let us first provide some context and background information on Emily Dickinson and her poetry. Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived from 1830 to 1886. She was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, and spent most of her life as a recluse, rarely leaving her home or receiving visitors. During her lifetime, only a handful of her poems were published, and even those were heavily edited to fit the conventions of the time.

It was only after her death that Dickinson's full body of work was discovered and published, revealing her as one of the greatest poets in American literature. Her poetry is known for its unconventional style, its use of dashes, and its themes of mortality, nature, and the human spirit. Dickinson's poems are often cryptic and obscure, and their meanings are not always clear. They require careful reading and interpretation to unlock their full potential.


Now, let us turn our attention to "What Tenements of Clover." Here is the poem in its entirety:

What tenements of clover 
Are fitting for the bee, 
What edifices azure 
For butterflies and me 
What residences nimble 
A summer's evening through 
What bricolage of paradise 
Ourself agile too 

At first glance, the poem seems simple and straightforward. It describes the various dwellings and habitats that are suitable for different creatures, such as bees, butterflies, and humans. However, as with most of Dickinson's poetry, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Let us start with the title, "What Tenements of Clover." The word "tenements" carries connotations of poverty and overcrowding, suggesting that the clover fields are not glamorous or luxurious. Yet, they are still "fitting for the bee," implying that beauty and value can be found in even the simplest of things. This idea ties in with Dickinson's broader themes of nature and the beauty of the everyday.

Moving on to the first stanza, we see that the poem is structured around a series of questions. "What tenements of clover / Are fitting for the bee," the speaker asks. The use of the word "fitting" suggests a sense of harmony and balance between the bee and its environment. The clover is not just a place for the bee to live, but a home that is perfectly suited to its needs.

The second line, "What edifices azure / For butterflies and me," introduces a new element: the butterflies and the speaker. The word "edifices" implies grandeur and sophistication, suggesting that the butterflies have more refined tastes than the bees. The use of the color "azure" adds to this sense of elegance and beauty.

However, the inclusion of "and me" in the line complicates things. Why is the speaker grouped together with the butterflies? What is their connection? One interpretation is that the speaker sees herself as being on the same level as the butterflies, as someone who can appreciate and inhabit the same kind of space. This idea ties in with Dickinson's focus on the individual and the human spirit.

The third line, "What residences nimble / A summer's evening through," continues the theme of harmony and balance. The word "nimble" suggests agility and grace, qualities that are associated with the creatures that inhabit these residences. The phrase "a summer's evening through" adds a sense of time and temporality, suggesting that these dwellings are not permanent but fleeting.

Finally, we come to the last line, "What bricolage of paradise / Ourself agile too." The word "bricolage" is an interesting choice, as it means a work of art made from various materials or found objects. This suggests that the paradise being described is not something that can be built or created, but something that is found and pieced together from the elements around us. The phrase "Ourself agile too" brings the speaker back into the picture, suggesting that she, too, is a part of this bricolage of paradise.


So, what can we take away from "What Tenements of Clover"? At its core, the poem is about the relationship between humans and nature, and the idea that we are all connected and interdependent. The imagery of the clover, the butterflies, and the bees suggests a sense of harmony and balance that we should strive for in our own lives. The focus on agility and nimbleness suggests that we should be adaptable and flexible in the face of change.

Furthermore, the inclusion of the speaker in the poem suggests that Dickinson sees herself as a part of this natural world, rather than separate from it. This ties in with her broader themes of individuality and the human spirit, and suggests that we should embrace our own uniqueness and find our own place in the world.

Overall, "What Tenements of Clover" is a complex and multi-layered poem that rewards careful reading and interpretation. While its meaning may not be immediately apparent, it offers a rich and rewarding meditation on our relationship with nature and the world around us.


In conclusion, Emily Dickinson's "What Tenements of Clover" is a deceptively simple poem that offers a wealth of meaning and interpretation. Through its use of imagery, structure, and language, it explores the themes of nature, balance, and individuality, and offers a powerful message about our place in the world. As with all of Dickinson's poetry, it requires careful reading and interpretation to unlock its full potential. But for those willing to put in the effort, it offers a truly rewarding experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

What Tenements of Clover: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Classic Poem

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, known for her unique style and ability to capture the essence of life in her works. One of her most famous poems is "What Tenements of Clover," a beautiful and thought-provoking piece that explores the beauty of nature and the fleeting nature of life. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the line "What tenements of clover," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The word "tenements" suggests that the clover is a dwelling place, a home for some small creature. This is reinforced by the next line, which describes the "bee" that "reels" in the clover. The use of the word "reels" suggests that the bee is intoxicated by the nectar of the clover, and is perhaps even dizzy with pleasure.

The second stanza of the poem continues this theme of the beauty and fragility of nature. Dickinson writes, "What right have I to be abroad, / What right to thank the Lord, / Impeachment of frivolity, / Insult to penitence?" Here, the speaker questions their own right to be out in nature, enjoying its beauty. They feel that their presence is an insult to the seriousness of life, and that they should be engaged in more penitent activities.

The third stanza of the poem takes a more philosophical turn, as Dickinson writes, "The grass develops pearl, / The butterflies acclaim; / Beyond this mortal world / We estimate our gain." Here, the speaker reflects on the fact that nature continues to thrive and flourish, even in the face of human mortality. The grass develops pearls, a metaphor for the dew that collects on the blades of grass in the morning. The butterflies, too, continue to "acclaim" the beauty of the world, even as humans struggle to find meaning in their lives.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of nature and mortality together, as Dickinson writes, "Yet when we contemplate / 'Tis immortality. / Emily Dickinson." Here, the speaker suggests that the contemplation of nature and its beauty is a way to transcend mortality and achieve immortality. By appreciating the beauty of the world around us, we can connect with something greater than ourselves and find meaning in our lives.

Overall, "What Tenements of Clover" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that explores the beauty and fragility of nature, as well as the human struggle to find meaning in life. Through her use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Dickinson captures the essence of the natural world and invites us to contemplate our place within it. Whether we are the bee in the clover or the human contemplating its beauty, we are all part of the same cycle of life and death, and it is up to us to find meaning in that cycle.

In conclusion, "What Tenements of Clover" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of nature, mortality, and the search for meaning are universal and timeless, and its beautiful language and imagery make it a joy to read and contemplate. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of the natural world, this poem is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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