Illustration of a bee pollinating two purple flowers

Fame is a bee.

Emily Dickinson captures the aspects of fame with a stinging metaphor

By Emily Dickinson

Learning Objective: Students will learn about metaphors by deciphering how, in each line of her brief poem, Emily Dickinson compares a different aspect of fame to a bee.



 “Fame is a bee” is a metaphor. A metaphor says one thing is another to show the two things are alike in some way. In this poem, look for what fame and a bee have in common. 

Fame is a bee.

Fame is a bee.

It has a song—

It has a sting—

Ah, too, it has a wing.

This poem was originally published in the December 2020 / January 2021 issue.  

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Answer Key (1)
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Answer Key (1)
Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

Introduce your students to another Emily Dickinson poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Have them compare and contrast how Dickinson describes fame in the two poems. What animal does she compare fame to in each? Then discuss: Which poem applies more to Emma? Which applies more to Aubree?

If your students become intrigued about this unique poet, they can learn more at      the Emily Dickinson Museum website. They might especially enjoy visiting the Homestead, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Emily Dickinson grew up! Scroll down to the “360 Viewer” to take a virtual tour of Emily’s bedroom and see several artifacts, including the desk where she wrote many of her poems.

More About the Story


metaphor, author’s craft, key details, interpreting text, author’s point of view, connecting texts

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

The poem is an extended metaphor, comparing fame to a bee, in that they both have good sides but can be ultimately harmful. 


The poem has four lines, the last two rhyming.


The language is simple, but readers will need to infer the meaning of the comparison of fame to a bee. It also has some unconventional punctuation, with dashes at the ends of lines.

Knowledge Demands 

No special knowledge is required.  

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

  • Have students do a quick word association with the word bee. Call on volunteers to each say a word they associate with it, or if teaching remotely, have students enter words in the chat feature. Review the words and ask students if any of them could also describe being famous. If so, in what way?
  • Ask a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box.

2. Reading the Poem

  • Read the poem aloud for the class a few times, or play our read-aloud. As students listen, ask them to think about each line and ask themselves in what way fame has “a song,” “a sting,” and “a wing.”
  • If your students have read the fiction story “Girl Can’t Dance,” prompt them to think about Emma’s experience with fame and how this poem could describe it.

3. Discussing a Poem

  • Both the title and the first line of this poem make the statement that fame is a bee. What do you call this kind of comparison? Why do you think Emily Dickinson starts the poem this way? (metaphor/author’s craft) This kind of comparison is called a metaphor. Dickinson probably starts this way to make readers wonder how fame could be like a bee.
  • What three things does the poet say both a bee and fame have? (key details) She says they both have a song, a sting, and a wing. 
  • What do you think the poet means when she says fame has “a song”? How does fame have “a sting”? (interpreting text) She says fame has a song because it has a positive or sweet side. For example, many people know and admire you. Fame sometimes leads to being rich as well. It has a sting because people feel free to criticize you, which can be hurtful. Sometimes famous people are treated like they don’t have feelings. 
  • Read the last line of the poem. How does fame have “a wing”? (interpreting text) Like a winged bee, fame can fly away. One day you might be famous, and the next day everyone has forgotten about you. 
  • Based on this poem, do you think the poet has a more positive or more negative view of fame? Explain your answer. (author’s point of view) Students will probably say the poet has a more negative view of fame. She compares it to a bee, an insect many people want to stay away from. She points out that even though it has “a song,” or things that make it seem attractive, it can also cause pain and quickly vanish. The poet seems to be warning that fame is not desirable.
  • How does this poem relate to the experience that Emma has with fame in the story “Girl Can’t Dance”? (connecting texts) Emma has both good and bad experiences with fame. At first, she feels the sting of fame. Many people in her school see her awkward dance on YouTube and make fun of her for it. But as more and more people see the video, her bad dance moves and off-key singing actually make people like her. They imitate her dance and ask for her autograph. She even gets to go on TV and dance with her idol, Jackson Jax. Soon, though, people get bored of her dance and turn their attention to other YouTube sensations. In this way, fame has a wing. Emma is no longer famous and must try to pick up her life–and her friendship with Aubree–where she left off.

4. Skill Building

  • Distribute or assign the Poetry Kit (available in your Resources tab), which will guide students to write their own poem that starts with a metaphor!

Great Ideas for Remote Learning

  • Choose one or more of the discussion questions above, and ask students to record their answers on Flipgrid to share with the class. You might assign different questions to different students, then hold a class discussion when you meet together.