The first thing we notice is that we've got a little personification going on, meaning that the poem is giving human traits to something nonhuman.
Have you ever met a flower that was happy? Maybe it looked happy because it was all bright and cheerful, but chances are you were doing a little personifying yourself. As far as we know, flowers don't have emotions, so they can't be happy. But don't feel bad for them; they can't be sad either. The next question becomes, then, what's the point of this personification?
Emily has used one of her favorite tricks and capitalized a word that's not a proper noun—"Flower." Often in Dickinson poems, we take that as a hint that the thing is supposed to symbolize something bigger.
But if it's not just a flower, what is it? And about what exactly is it not surprised?
Guess we'll have to wait till the next line to see. Oh, the anticipation.
Before we move on, though, we also notice some consonance with the repeated P sounds in both lines. Check out "Sound Check" for how this weaves through the whole poem.
The first line is in what's called iambic tetrameter and the second is in iambic trimeter. When poems alternate between these two it can be called ballad meter.
Yes, yes, that was a lot of complicated meter jargon. Just click your way to "Form and Meter" for the full explanation.
The Frost beheads it at its play— In accidental power—
Whoa, didn't see that one coming.
So the "happy Flower" is not surprised about getting beheaded by the "Frost." We guess that makes sense; winter comes and kills the flowers every year, so it's probably not much of a surprise.
Emily is all about nature imagery so it's also no surprise to see it here. And again, in these lines, she personifies something out of nature. The Frost beheads the flower, right? That simultaneously personifies the Frost and the Flower.
The Frost is doing the very human action of beheading somebody else, and the Flower seems human because it has a head to lop off.
We notice that the word Frost is kicking it with a capital F, which again makes us wonder what it might symbolize. Well, it's doing a whole lot killing, so could it be Death itself?
Dun dun dun…
On that note, could the Flower then represent human life? Or all life? The poem doesn't tell us for sure. What do you think, Shmoopers?
One more question before we go: why is the Frost's power described as "accidental"? Could it be that the speaker is commenting on how Frost doesn't purposely kill anything?
It just does it because that's what it does. If that's the case, then it makes us think a little more about the poem's stance on Death. Is the speaker angry at Death, or is she recognizing that it's just a fact of life? (Maybe a bit of both?)
The blonde Assassin passes on—
Now the Frost is personified as an Assassin.
Is this contradictory to the idea that the Frost kills accidentally? Assassins kill on purpose; it's their job and stuff.
So maybe the poem is just relating the word "Assassin" with the fact that the Frost has a killer nature in general.
It's also interesting that the Frost is described as "blonde." We've never seen yellow frost—unless it's been peed on, and we're guessing that's not what Emily's going for.
It could be that she's just using blonde to describe how pale Frost is. Or she could be describing how Frost looks later in the morning just before it "passes on" or melts away.
Frost does look a bit "blonde" when the Sun shines on it, right?
The Sun proceeds unmoved To measure off another Day
Look, here's the Sun that was giving the Frost a dye job earlier. And by dye job we mean melting it away.
Now, it's like the cycle of killing has reached a whole new level. The Frost killed the Flower; the Sun killed the Frost.
It's really starting to look like this poem is all about cycles of life and death.
The Sun is shown as kind of a sociopath about the whole thing. All this slaughter is going on, and it doesn't shed one tear. (Oh well, its tears would instantly evaporate anyway.)
Instead, the Sun just does its job of "measur[ing] off another Day." What could this mean in terms of symbolism?
If the Frost killing the Flower is Death ending Life, could the uncaring Sun marking the hours represent Time? We're no Stephen Hawking, but we're pretty sure Time doesn't give two flips about what happens to any of us.
It's just Time.
It does its thing.
Before we go on, let's take a sec to appreciate the play on words Emily sneaks in here: "proceeds unmoved." Get it? The poem means "unmoved" as in "uncaring," but it could also literally mean something that hasn't been moved.
Here, though, "unmoved" is plunked down beside the word "proceeds" with means to move forward. So there's a subtle linguistic contradiction thrown in there. Ah wordplay. You never cease to be fun.
For an Approving God.
Big surprise. Emily couldn't let the poem end without taking a parting shot at God, at the guy she loves to hate and hates to love.
First, we go though this semi-sad scene of a Flower being murdered by the Frost. Then we're told that the Sun doesn't care about it.
And now we're told that God is looking down on it all and patting himself on the back for a job well done. Yeah, there's a good chance that this poem is going after God with a satirical bite.
How could anybody with a heart look down on Death without thinking it's a little sad at least?
Okay, okay. To play Devil's advocate—well, maybe we should say God's advocate—we could also read the poem as not being an attack on God.
What if it's simply framing the cycle of life and death and the fact that God created it?
If a person loves God, then he or she has to love everything God created. Even if it seems cruel to us, we might as well get over it. Could the poem be saying that we all ought to be more like the flower and be happy as we die?