The Self-Swarm of Artemis: Emily Dickinson as Bee/Hive/Queen

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 58 (2):167-187 (2022)
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Abstract

Despite the ubiquity of bees in Dickinson’s work, most interpreters denigrate her nature poems. But following several recent scholars, I identify Nietzschean/Dionysian overtones in the bee poems and suggest the figure of bees/hive/queen illuminates as feminist key to her corpus. First, (a) the bee’s sting represents martyred death; (b) its gold, immortality; (c) its tongue, the “lesbian phallus”; (d) its wings, poetic power; (e) its buzz, poetic melody, and (f) its organism, a joyful Dionysian Susan (her sister-in-law and love interest) to Emily’s flower. Second, the hive represents her individual poems (with slants/dashes as stingers, wings as hymn meter, honey as rhymes, variant words as exiled bees, and accompanying flowers their Darwinian coevolution with bees), constituting her writing persona as a multi-voiced self-swarm, as organized in the apiary of her letters and fascicles. And third, the queen represents her Western cultural and religious inheritance wherein bees are symbols of the soul, reincarnation, poetic-philosophical vocation, and a Nietzschean, trans-Dionysian naturalist ontology—symbolized by apiarian Artemis.

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Joshua M. Hall
University of Alabama, Birmingham

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