The Rose did caper on her cheek—
Her Bodice rose and fell—
Her pretty speech—like drunken men—
Did stagger pitiful—
Her fingers fumbled at her work—
Her needle would not go—
What ailed so smart a little Maid—
It puzzled me to know—
Till opposite—I spied a cheek
That bore another Rose—
Just opposite—Another speech
That like the Drunkard goes—
A Vest that like her Bodice, danced—
To the immortal tune—
Till those two troubled—little Clocks
Ticked softly into one.
“The Rose did caper on her cheek—” was published posthumously in 1896 in The Poems of Emily Dickinson by the Roberts Brothers. The poem is written in the traditional ballad or hymn form consisting of alternating iambic tetrameter.
The poem begins with an abashed young woman speaking to a group of individuals and questions why she blushes. Dickinson uses the term caper, to skip or dance, to represent the steady spreading of color across her cheeks. The rose Dickinson refers to is identifiable as the rosy color that appears in ones cheeks when embarrassed. The poem reinforces female embodiment with the reference to the woman’s bodice, the portion above the waist on a dress, and its rising and falling caused by heavy breathing. The poem continues to chronicle the embarrassment of the woman, comparing her speech to that of drunken men: “Her pretty speechlike drunken men—Did stagger pitiful.” The poem represents the speaker’s inability to maintain her speech by presenting the imagery of her needlework. She who is typically “so smart a Little Maid” becomes unable to carefully guide her needle because of her quivering hands.
The poem poses a question about what “ailed” the little maid, which in this instance pertains to one’s mind. After this question the poem turns its attention to the others gathered to hear her speech. From the faces across the room, the speaker encounters one, “That bore another Rose—Just opposite.” Using the connection of the rose, she connects a young man who begins his own speech exactly opposite of the maid. This introduces the birth of young love becoming intertwined. The poem creates the same relationship of the young man’s speech to those of drunkards, similar with the maid.
The speaker finalizes their relationship by speaking of the similar patterns of rising and falling of the Bodice to that of the young man’s vest. Dickinson relates both their speeches and their connections to dancing “To the immortal tune—.” This line suggests the shared embarrassment of their newfound feelings while also showing that their dance will never end, as love is an immortal and ever-changing song. The poem continues to bring in the components of time and love by the imagery of clocks, labeling the lovers as “two troubled—little Clocks.” Through this metaphor she shows that although their clocks may be set to different times now, one day their clocks will be in sync. The poem ends with the two clocks “Ticked softly into one,” confirming that these two were meant to be together: their clocks will no longer be separate but one, counting down the remaining days of their physical relationship and making their love eternal.
Bibliography and Further Reading Erin Mull. The Rose Did Caper (2012); Justin Thomas and Emily Dickinson; The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1998); Susan Kornfeld. “The Prowling Bee: The Rose did caper on her cheek—”; Educational Technology Clearinghouse. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two.
Credits Composed by Rose O’Callaghan, Spring 2017.