Being High is Okay in Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed’

Bee – Getting drunk on nectar

Deciphering the meaning of poetry has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a teenager. My English teachers often called on me to read aloud and interpret readings while everyone else was either bored or wondered how I knew this stuff. For me, it just came natural, because I love metaphors and the hidden meaning and symbolism; it’s like finding pieces to a puzzle that solve a mystery.

Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” poem is a metaphor about being intoxicated on something natural. In this case, it seems that Dickinson is high on nature but compares it to be drunk on alcohol. I particularly enjoyed the symbolism of this poem, because I am also very much into “getting high” on nature. These are my interpretations of each line:

“I taste a liquor never brewed”
The author ingests something that makes her “drunk” so to speak, but since it hasn’t been brewed, Dickinson figuratively tastes it in much the same way someone might say, “I can taste success.”

“From Tankards scooped in Pearl”
Drinking alcohol from a tankard (like a small stein) made from pearl – a luxurious item and highly valued, perhaps giving a high value to her experience and being drunk/high a luxury.

“Not all the Vats upon the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol!”
There is nothing that can compare to what she is experiencing, as the vats in the Rhine are known to have very good wine, inferring that what she has is better than even the best alcohol.

“Inebriate of Air am I And Debauchee of Dew –“
The air and dew she is breathing is what makes her “drunk.”

“Reeling — thro endless summer days –
From inns of Molten Blue –” With “Molten Blue”
Capitalization here puts emphasis on something large and important to her. An inn is a bar. So her “bar” is the outside world and “molten blue” is the sky.

“When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –“
Foxglove is a flower poisonous to humans and animals, but beneficial to bees. However, what is interesting is that foxglove is very poisonous to humans, so why she chose this particular flower is another mystery. And who are these landlords? Are they the hummingbirds that also feed from the flower, or are they the flowers themselves?

“When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” –“
A dram is about the size of a shot or two. But why would a butterfly renounce its dram? It gets full or has had enough in the same way someone who drinks would stop at some point.

“I shall but drink the more!”
She will outdrink the butterflies and bees, being one with nature.

“Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –“
Here is an angel and cloud reference.

“And Saints — to windows run –“
Saints run to see the commotion outside.

“To see the little Tippler”
Tippler = drunk person.

“Leaning against the — Sun –“
The Sun is capitalized, so again it’s very important here. It’s huge, it’s warm, it gives life, and the sun is often regarded as “God.” In other words, being high on nature is acceptable, as high as the angelic realm and equal to perfection.