I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove's door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!

Dickinson whimsically describes the exhilarating effect of nature. She uses the metaphor of drunkenness or intoxication to express how the beauty of nature elates her. (Intoxication is a common metaphor for powerful attachments or thrilling feelings; for example, "He's drunk with power" or "Sky diving is intoxicating.") Dickinson plays with this metaphor by developing it literally and concretely.

Dickinson establishes the drinking metaphor with the first line. Pearl, a precious gem, indicates the value of liquor made under the best of circumstances; her liquor (the beauty of nature) is even more precious. Ladling or dipping into liquor to drink it produces a white foam; color is another reason Dickinson chooses pearl. Her liquor is more precious than Rhine wine, a white wine which is highly regarded.

With stanza 2, she tells us, humorously, what she is drunk on--air and dew, which represent nature. (A debauchee is someone corrupted or debased, usually by alcohol.) She is so drunk or "turned on," to use a modern metaphor, that she is staggering. In the last line she starts an image that continues through the third stanza--drinking at an inn. In other words, she is drunk with summer's splendor; the sky is intensely blue or "molten." Can you find any repeated vowel or consonant sounds in this stanza?

How long will nature continue to intoxicate her? Stanzas three and four suggest forever. She will "drink" nature until foxgloves stop blooming and when butterflies give up gathering nectar from flowers. She equates nectar, and its positive assocations, with "drams" (dram: a small drink of liquor). And then? she will "drink" or revel in nature all the more. Part of the humor derives from the fact that nature itself drinks.

To express how prodigious her enthusiasm for nature is, she asserts that the angels will shake their "snowy hats" (the clouds), and the saints will rush to see her. A possible implication of referring to saints and seraphs (note the alliteration) is that God approves of her drunkenness. The poem ends with a startling and powerful image: her leaning against the sun, as a drunk might lean against a lamppost. (Dickinson often ends her poems with a powerful image or statement.) Stanzas three and four go through the activities of a day and end with the sun beginning to set.

This is a lighthearted, happy, playful, charming, and amusing poem. There are no shadows. It is possible to see in her presenting herself as a drunk a sublimated rebelliousness against society's restrictiveness or sanctimoniousness (a holier-than-thou attitude). Or perhaps you see a hint of Dickinson in a naughty little girl persona, in presenting herself as a "tippler" (one who drinks). The speaker is clearly naive and straightforward.

All you have to do in reading this poem is enjoy it and perhaps remember times when you felt this joyful about nature.

Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed," p. 2
"Safe in their alabaster chambers," p. 3
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p. 21
"It was not death, for I stood up," p. 22
"A bird came down the walk," p. 13
"I like to see it lap the miles," p. 27
"Pain has an element of blank," p. 31
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p. 44
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
"After great pain a formal feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society" (handout)
"The heart asks pleasure first," p. 24
"I'll tell you how the sun rose," p. 11
"Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn," p. 36
"Success is counted sweetest" (handout)
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p. 11
"I felt a cleaving in my mind," p. 43
"My life closed twice before its close," p. 49
"Wild nights! Wild nights!" p.5
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms," p. 3
"Hope is the thing with feathers," p. 5
"I felt a funeral in my brain," p. 8
"I had been hungry all the years," p. 26
"I started Early--took my Dog--" (handout)
"My life had stood a loaded gun" (handout)
"Because I could not stop for Death," p. 35
"If you were coming in the fall," p. 23
**Supplemental Reading**
      Sample Midtern and Student Answers

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