If She Had Been the Mistletoe, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

In "If She Had Been the Mistletoe" by Emily Dickinson, the poet employs botanical symbolism to explore themes of unrequited love, missed opportunities, and contrasting identities. The poem contemplates the emotional dynamics between two different personas, symbolized by the Mistletoe and the Rose. Dickinson's imaginative use of nature imagery creates a poignant portrayal of unfulfilled desire and the bittersweet acceptance of one's role in a relationship. Through her concise verses, the poet invites readers to reflect on the complexities of love and the various roles individuals play within it.

If She Had Been the Mistletoe

If she had been the Mistletoe
And I had been the Rose —
How gay upon your table
My velvet life to close —
Since I am of the Druid,
And she is of the dew —
I'll deck Tradition's buttonhole —
And send the Rose to you.


"If She Had Been the Mistletoe" presents an exploration of unrequited love and contrasting identities through nature symbolism. The speaker contemplates the scenario of being like the Mistletoe and the beloved being the Rose. Despite the potential for a close and beautiful relationship, their roles prevent them from being together. The speaker acknowledges their own identity as being more aligned with the Druid, while the beloved is associated with the dew. In the spirit of acceptance, the speaker decides to honor tradition and send the Rose, symbolizing their affection, to the beloved.

Critical Analysis

"If She Had Been the Mistletoe" delves into the complexities of unrequited love and the limitations imposed by one's identity and roles. The poem's structure, consisting of short lines and stanzas, contributes to its contemplative and reflective tone.

The poem begins by imagining an alternative scenario where the speaker (the Rose) and the beloved (the Mistletoe) could have shared a close and vibrant relationship.

The phrase "How gay upon your table" conveys the vibrancy and beauty of such a relationship, contrasting with the eventual outcome.

The speaker then introduces their own identity as "of the Druid" and contrasts it with the beloved's identity as "of the dew." This distinction between ancient tradition and the fleeting nature of dew reinforces the idea of contrasting roles.

The speaker acknowledges that their identities prevent them from sharing the close relationship they desire. Despite this, they choose to accept their respective roles and decide to honor tradition by sending the Rose to the beloved.

The closing lines, "And send the Rose to you," reveal the speaker's decision to express their affection through the Rose, symbolizing their unrequited love and the recognition of their place within the dynamic.

"If She Had Been the Mistletoe" invites readers to contemplate the complexities of love, identity, and the choices people make in relationships. The poem's introspective approach encourages reflection on the inevitability of certain outcomes and the resilience needed to navigate emotional complexities.


  • Unrequited Love: The poem explores the theme of unrequited love, highlighting the emotional challenges of desiring a close relationship that remains unrealized.
  • Contrasting Identities: The contrasting identities of the speaker as a Druid and the beloved as dew symbolize the different roles individuals play within relationships.
  • Acceptance and Tradition: The poem addresses the theme of acceptance and the choice to honor tradition despite unfulfilled desires.


  • Desire and Longing: The speaker expresses a strong desire for a close and vibrant relationship, coupled with a sense of longing for what could have been.
  • Resignation and Acceptance: The poem conveys a tone of resignation and acceptance as the speaker recognizes the limitations of their roles and chooses to send the Rose.


  • Imagery: The imagery of the Mistletoe, Rose, Druid, and dew serves as symbolic representations of love, identity, and tradition.
  • Contrast: The poem employs contrast between the identities of the speaker and the beloved to highlight their differing roles and the resulting emotional distance.

Literary Devices

The poem uses several literary devices:

  • Metaphor: The Mistletoe and Rose function as metaphors for the different identities and roles within the relationship.
  • Contrast: The poem effectively contrasts the speaker's identity as a Druid with the beloved's identity as dew, creating a distinct dichotomy.

Feel free to engage in discussion and share your insights on "If She Had Been the Mistletoe" in the comments section below. How do you interpret the themes of unrequited love, contrasting identities, and the impact of tradition on relationships? Join the conversation and explore the layers of meaning within the poem!

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