Dog Poetry Sunday – Emily Dickinson

To be honest, one of the reasons I have resisted poetry so long was because my early introduction to the form was crammed full of the morbid and, in my opinion, broken thoughts of Emily Dickinson. It isn’t that I didn’t think she was brilliant, I just never liked what she had to say. My first real literature instructor adored her, however, and I remember being forced to analyze for weeks on end the cheery “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” and the optimistic “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.” It made me miserable. I didn’t understand why it was necessary for me to take on the agony of a 19th century woman. I was a teenager and had enough of my own angst through which I needed to work.

However, now that I am older and less impatient, I see the value in wading through Ms. Dickinson’s swamps. The practice is still frustrating but if I pace myself I don’t get dragged under.

The below poem isn’t exactly a dog poem. The dog disappears after the first line, which, I admit, bothers me. From what I can discern with my limited knowledge, the poem has much more to do with the overwhelming power of nature and perhaps the writer’s renouncement of life. It certainly reads more like a suicide, akin to that of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening. The reason I sought it out has everything to do with the title and nothing else. I have always loved the short six-word phrase and thought it would be perfect for the title of a novel or memoir.

No doubt it has already been taken.

Regardless, when I looked at some of the literary reviews for today’s selection, I learned the dog might be more important that I had first imagined. One particular analysis by Djehuty struck me most. Instead of a woman walking her dog along the beach, he saw the speaker as Orion, strolling with his dog, Sirius, across the celestial plain. Rather than it being about a woman’s wish to surrender herself to the sea, it is possible it described the power of the Roman god and the water’s inability to conquer the sky.

Who knows? According to my high school teacher, there is no such thing as a false interpretation when it comes to poetry. It certainly makes for happier reading. Besides, the constellations of Orion and Sirius have always been my favourites.

“I Started Early – Took My Dog -“, by Emily Dickinson

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—

10 thoughts on “Dog Poetry Sunday – Emily Dickinson

  1. Did you know that Emily’s poems can almost always be sung to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas”? Try it! My high school lit teacher and her college roommate had come up with that one. I suspect you would have enjoyed her class more than the one you had.
    I share your love of Orion. Midwinter, when I look up at the sky at night, I feel comforted that Orion is guarding over us. Always been my favorite too!


  2. I love symbolism and figure this is probably referring to depression consuming her or something, but just when I think I’ve figured it out, it’s most often supposedly about something totally different! About the dog in the title, Dickinson had a dog, I believe a newfie, which would have loved the sea she strolled by.


  3. How interesting. I have a whole book of Dickinson’s poems and I honestly don’t think I ever saw this one. I have to agree on the whole death and mortality thing BTW.

    Perhaps I am too simplistic in my interpretation, but I took her description to be a colorful description of the power of the sea and all it beholds. Perhaps Peggy is closer to the truth though.


  4. Can I just tell you how much I love this series you’re doing?! I know you’re coming to it a bit reluctantly, but I adore poetry and haven’t spent a single minute reading any for… years. Thank you for re-igniting the spark!


  5. Back when I was still teaching, I taught this poem. I asked my students what happened to the dog, and why was the dog in the poem at all? They did not have an answer.


    • I’d love to know your interpretation of the poem, Jessica, if you ever have time to share it. I admit, there is so much in this literary form that still baffles the heck out of me.


  6. It’s great that you are giving poetry another look. I had a teacher at school who taught us how to study poetry, she completely ruined it for me. She asked me what i thought a poem was about and when I told her she said “you’re completely wrong.” That kinda killed it for me, I like that you’re teacher said it was all about individual interpritation


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