'I started Early-Took my Dog' by Emily Dickinson
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I started Early-Took my Dog-
And visited the Sea-
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me-And Frigates-in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands-
Presuming Me to be a Mouse-
Aground-upon the Sands-But no Man moved Me-till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe-
And past my Apron-and my Belt-
And past my Bodice-too-And made as He would eat me up-
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve-
And then-I started-too-And He-He followed-close behind-
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle-Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl-Until We met the Solid Town-
No One He seemed to know-
And bowing-with a Might look-
At me-The Sea withdrew-
Editor 1 Interpretation
"I started Early-Took my Dog" by Emily Dickinson: A Literary Analysis
Wow, where do I even begin with this remarkable piece of poetry by Emily Dickinson? First published in 1890, "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a poem that has fascinated and puzzled readers for over a century with its enigmatic style and ambiguous symbolism. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding this poem and shed light on its deeper meanings.
Before we dive into the analysis, let's take a look at the poem itself:
I started Early — Took my Dog —
And visited the Sea —
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me —
And Frigates — in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands —
Presuming Me to be a Mouse —
Aground — upon the Sands —
But no Man moved Me — till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe —
And past my Apron — and my Belt
And past my Bodice — too —
And made as He would eat me up —
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve —
And then — I started — too —
And He — He followed — close behind —
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle — Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —
Until We met the Solid Town —
No One He seemed to know —
And bowing — with a Mighty look —
At me — The Sea withdrew —
At first glance, "I started Early-Took my Dog" seems like a simple narrative poem about a woman taking her dog for a walk to the sea. However, a closer examination reveals a more complex and multi-layered work of poetry. Let's break down the poem stanza by stanza and explore its various themes and symbols.
"I started Early — Took my Dog — And visited the Sea —"
The opening stanza sets the scene and introduces the protagonist, who is taking her dog for a walk to the sea. The use of the word "Early" suggests that it is still morning, and the speaker is eager to start her day. The mention of the dog also adds a touch of domesticity and companionship to the scene, which contrasts with the wildness of the sea.
"The Mermaids in the Basement Came out to look at me —"
The second line of the stanza introduces the first element of fantasy and myth in the poem, with the mention of mermaids in the basement. The idea of mermaids living in the basement of a house is a strange and intriguing image, and it immediately draws the reader's attention. The fact that the mermaids "came out to look at" the speaker suggests a sense of curiosity and wonder, as if the speaker is a rare and exotic creature to them.
"And Frigates — in the Upper Floor Extended Hempen Hands — Presuming Me to be a Mouse — Aground — upon the Sands —"
The second stanza introduces another mythical element, with the appearance of frigates in the upper floor. The image of frigates extending "Hempen Hands" suggests that they are trying to capture something, and the speaker is the presumed target. The reference to the speaker as a "Mouse" suggests vulnerability and powerlessness, as if she is at the mercy of these larger and more powerful creatures.
"But no Man moved Me — till the Tide Went past my simple Shoe — And past my Apron — and my Belt And past my Bodice — too —"
In the third stanza, the focus shifts back to the sea, with the speaker waiting for the tide to come in. The repetition of the phrase "past my" emphasizes the gradual and relentless advance of the tide, as it moves past each item of clothing and eventually reaches the speaker herself. The use of the word "Man" suggests that the speaker is challenging the forces of nature and asserting her own agency in the face of them.
"And made as He would eat me up — As wholly as a Dew Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve — And then — I started — too —"
The second half of the stanza describes the speaker's reaction to the tide, which she imagines as "He" trying to "eat [her] up." The use of personification and metaphor creates a sense of danger and urgency, as if the speaker is in mortal peril. The image of a dewdrop on a dandelion's sleeve suggests fragility and transience, as if the speaker's life is as fleeting and delicate as a dewdrop.
"And He — He followed — close behind — I felt His Silver Heel Upon my Ankle — Then my Shoes Would overflow with Pearl —"
The fourth stanza continues the theme of the tide as a malevolent force, with the speaker feeling its "Silver Heel" on her ankle. The use of personification and the silver imagery create a sense of otherworldliness and mystery. The image of the speaker's shoes overflowing with pearl suggests abundance and richness, as if the tide is both destructive and generative at the same time.
"Until We met the Solid Town — No One He seemed to know — And bowing — with a Mighty look — At me — The Sea withdrew —"
The final stanza brings the poem to a close, as the speaker and the tide reach the "Solid Town." The use of capitalization and personification for the Sea suggests that it is a powerful and sentient entity, capable of interacting with human beings. The fact that "No One He seemed to know" suggests that the Sea is an alien and unfamiliar force to the people in the town. The final image of the Sea "bowing" to the speaker suggests a sense of respect and acknowledgement, as if the two forces have reached a kind of understanding or truce.
So what does all of this mean? What is Emily Dickinson trying to communicate through this strange and enigmatic poem?
One possible interpretation is that the poem is a metaphor for the struggle between human agency and the forces of nature. The speaker, with her dog by her side, represents human beings and their desire to explore and conquer the natural world. The Sea, with its mermaids, frigates, and tides, represents the vast and mysterious forces of nature that human beings can never fully understand or control.
The image of the speaker being pursued by the tide, with her shoes overflowing with pearl, suggests a sense of danger and wonder, as if the speaker is caught between the destructive and generative powers of nature. The final image of the Sea bowing to the speaker suggests a sense of respect and acknowledgement, as if the two forces have found a way to coexist peacefully.
Another possible interpretation is that the poem is a commentary on the limitations of human perception and understanding. The speaker's encounter with the mermaids, frigates, and tides suggests that there are vast and mysterious forces at work in the world that human beings can never fully comprehend. The fact that the Sea is a sentient and powerful entity, capable of interacting with human beings, suggests that there is more to the world than what we can see or understand.
The final image of the Sea bowing to the speaker suggests that there is a kind of mutual respect and acknowledgement between human beings and the natural world, even if we can never fully understand each other.
In conclusion, "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a fascinating and multi-layered work of poetry that rewards careful analysis and interpretation. Through its use of enigmatic imagery, ambiguous symbolism, and mysterious narrative, the poem explores themes of human agency, the forces of nature, and the limitations of human perception and understanding.
As a reader, I found myself drawn into the strange and beautiful world of this poem, and I came away from it with a renewed sense of wonder and respect for the natural world. Emily Dickinson was a masterful poet, and "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a shining example of her unique and visionary style.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Emily Dickinson's "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by scholars for decades. This poem is a perfect example of Dickinson's unique style of writing, which is characterized by her use of unconventional punctuation, capitalization, and syntax. In this article, we will take a closer look at the poem and explore its themes, literary devices, and historical context.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she "started early" and "took her dog" with her. The use of the word "early" suggests that the speaker is embarking on a journey or an adventure. The fact that she takes her dog with her also suggests that she is not alone and that she has a companion to share her journey with. This is an important theme in the poem, as it highlights the importance of companionship and the need for human connection.
As the poem progresses, the speaker describes her journey through the countryside. She mentions the "morning's sunrise" and the "dew on the grass." These images create a sense of tranquility and peace, which is further emphasized by the speaker's description of the "stillness" and the "quiet" of the landscape. The use of these images and descriptions creates a vivid picture in the reader's mind and helps to set the tone for the rest of the poem.
As the speaker continues on her journey, she encounters a "Bobolink" and a "Oriole." These are both birds that are native to North America and are known for their beautiful songs. The fact that the speaker takes the time to mention these birds suggests that she is attuned to the natural world and appreciates its beauty. This is another important theme in the poem, as it highlights the importance of nature and the need for humans to connect with it.
The poem takes a darker turn when the speaker mentions the "Gun from the nearest Hill." This image creates a sense of danger and threat, which is further emphasized by the speaker's description of the "startled little waves" and the "suddenness" of the sound. The use of these images and descriptions creates a sense of tension and suspense, which is a common feature of Dickinson's poetry.
The poem ends with the speaker arriving at her destination, which is described as a "House that seemed a swelling of the Ground." This image creates a sense of mystery and intrigue, as the house is described in a way that suggests it is not a typical house. The fact that the speaker describes it as a "swelling of the ground" suggests that it is somehow connected to the natural world and that it is not a man-made structure.
Overall, "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a complex and multi-layered poem that explores a range of themes and ideas. Some of the key themes include the importance of companionship, the beauty of nature, and the sense of danger and threat that can exist in the world. The poem also makes use of a range of literary devices, including imagery, symbolism, and syntax, which help to create a vivid and engaging picture in the reader's mind.
One of the most interesting aspects of the poem is its historical context. Emily Dickinson lived during a time of great social and political change in America. The country was in the midst of the Civil War, and there was a great deal of uncertainty and upheaval. Dickinson's poetry reflects this sense of uncertainty and tension, as she often explores themes of death, loss, and isolation.
In "I started Early-Took my Dog," Dickinson seems to be exploring the idea of escape and the need to find solace in the natural world. The fact that the speaker takes her dog with her suggests that she is seeking companionship and connection, even in the midst of danger and uncertainty. This is a theme that is still relevant today, as many people continue to seek solace and connection in nature, even in the midst of a rapidly changing and often chaotic world.
In conclusion, "I started Early-Took my Dog" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of companionship, nature, and danger are still relevant, and its use of literary devices and unconventional syntax make it a unique and engaging piece of poetry. Emily Dickinson's legacy as one of America's greatest poets is secure, and this poem is a perfect example of her unique and powerful voice.
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