Emily Dickinson did not give titles to most of her poems, so they are generally referred to by their first lines. The editor of the 1955 edition of her poems, Thomas H. Johnson, attempted to number them according to the order of their composition; “I taste a liquor never brewed—” is listed as number 214. Dickinson sometimes left alternate versions of her poems, and the version discussed here is what Johnson believed to be her final one.
“I taste a liquor never brewed—” consists of four stanzas, the second and fourth lines rhyming in each quatrain. This is a poem of visionary experience in which the richness of a natural setting in summer is the cause. Speaking in her own lyric voice, Dickinson describes the exhilaration of going outdoors in summer in terms of getting drunk in a tavern.
In the first stanza, she asserts that she is drinking an unusual kind of liquor, one that has not been brewed but that is superior to the finest Rhine wine. In the second stanza, she says that she has become drunk by consuming the air and the dew of summer days. This consumption has taken place in “inns of Molten Blue,” or under the hot summer sky. In the third stanza, she claims that her capacity for this liquor exceeds that of the most dedicated of summer’s drinkers, the bees and the butterflies: When they have ceased drinking, she will continue. In the final quatrain, she affirms that she will drink until seraphs—the six-winged angels that stand in the presence of God—and saints as well run to Heaven’s windows to see her, “the little Tippler/ Leaning against the—Sun—.”
The last image of the poem, which grows out of the central comparison between drunkenness and her experiences of the summer day, humorously conveys a spiritual expansion of the self. Through this expansion, she comes to the notice of divine spirits, calling them away from their usual adoration of God in order to see this smaller god who, though perhaps a little unruly, has grown momentarily toward her true stature and importance.