“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.” ~ John Keats
Who robbed the woods
The trusting woods?
The unsuspecting trees
Brought out their burrs and mosses
His fantasy to please.
He scanned their trinkets, curious,
He grasped, he bore away.
What will the solemn hemlock,
What will the fir-tree say?
by: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Can a fir-tree say anything to humanity? What is Dickinson projecting onto the hemlock and fir-tree?
“The trusting woods” is a statement of observation which is the perfect blending of the subjective and the objective. For a fir-tree to get big and strong means years of growth, trusting that the sun, rain and moisture from the earth will be dependable. The woods have all the natural processes for life and photosynthesis to occur, the seasons and the arch of the heavens brightly shown as a confidence to an abundant life. How dependable nature is. Does humanity think often about the great relationship it has with the “trusting woods” for oxygen? Our world economy is rooted deep in the “unsuspecting trees.”
“His …He…He…He” enters the poem objectively. Actions that bring great conflict to the passivity of nature as “His fancy, He scanned, He grasped.” This is the rape of nature. The sixth line of the poem states that, ”He scanned their trinkets, curious,” is an objective statement showing the desire of “He” for the trinkets. This word speaks of those things in nature that are precious; trinkets are the jewels of nature. Nature then becomes an object to be “grasped” taken and used for the “fancy” of “He.” He is the “Who” that has robbed the woods.
Dickinson uses the “solemn hemlock” in her poem as the one witness to the rape of nature. An action “He” does against the “woods.” A beautiful poisonous plant is alerted to this action against the woods. The hemlock has a conscience. The hemlock knows it is wrong and the inward reaction is the feeling of being solemn. “He” is poisonous to nature. This is a contrary idea. It is commonly know that the hemlock plant is poisonous yet, in Emily Dickinson’s poem, the “hemlock” is the face of truth.
Nature has a conscience in this poem and “He” does not.