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Comment 11 of 161, added on September 15th, 2004 at 11:17 PM.
Let’s analyze. I don’t want to poke fun at the process of critical
analysis (good Lord, never!), but I am aching—ACHING—to play the game.
Allow me to hyperbolize, exaggerate, grab context by the throat and bend it
to my whim. I’m going to take this work of literature and, while the
author is rolling in her grave like a rotisserie chicken, bend it to fit
the flavor of the month. Next step: browbeat scholars of great renown to
follow my convolutions until I have “academic respectability.” Literary
theory is a contortionist’s pastime, and I’m double jointed. Let’s get a
Feminism: The poem is not from the point of view of a woman, but rather
spoken from the perspective of a very vain, very narcissistic male. “Took
my Dog” is clearly a reference to his woman, or, as it’s used in popular
music these days, his “bitch” (crazy kids with their crazy hippity
hoppity). His vanity knows no bounds: imaginary creatures—imaginary female
creatures, no less—swim up to him to vie for his attention. A frigate, an
object reeking of testosterone (did you think that conquerors raped and
pillaged foreign women and foreign lands after dismounting pogo sticks? No,
man! They spread their imperial seed from boats—big ones!) is his
contemporary, extending its hempen hands, whatever the hell that means.
Brotherhood! Aha! Frigates equal brotherhood, for some unknown
allegorical reason. This man, excuse me—Man—consorts with frigates, not
breadboxes, not piano benches, but a large man o’ war with cannons poking
through windows like a row of broken teeth. This hyper-masculine man is
adorned with an apron and a bodice, which clearly represents…um, well,
Marxist! Like any theorist backed into a corner by his poor research and
the overcompensating volume of his arguments, I’m jumping ship, frigate if
you will, and chasing another perspective up the proverbial tree.
Remember, English majors, there are no wrong answers. No stupid questions.
Welcome to subjectivity! Up, up to the next theory!
Marxism: “He”—only a tyrannical God would insist on everyone capitalizing
His pronouns. Only a God, a God created by paranoid capitalists, only a
God that slings salvation like dope dealers slipping a dime bag into your
Do you see it? Perspective via theory can make Emily love God, hate Jesus,
grow a penis, and sleep with her father without the drudgery of pesky
incestuous guilt. What can you make Emily do? Grab her arm, twist it,
scream out, "Semiotics! Dance! Signify! Saussure isn't nearly as
compassionate as I am! Wait until Luce Irigaray gets wind of you, Ms.
Comment 10 of 161, added on September 15th, 2004 at 7:56 PM.
This poem seems to me to be a coming of age piece as Emily discovers her
sexuality and the feelings associated with it. She begins by saying that
she started early and the imagery of a dog accompayying her implies a
little girl on a jaunt to the seashore. However, according to Lois Tyson's
"Critical Theory Today" the sea is symbolic of sexuality and emotions. The
speaker seems to be saying that she began exploring her sexuality at a
young age. In the basement, or hidden places, where society so often hides
all things sex-related, Emily sees Mermaids, another sensual though
feminine image. In contrast to the soft, flowing mermaids are the stern
frigates who want to hold her back and keep her innocently (like a mouse)
on the shore.
Emily seems to explore her ow n sexuality early, but it is later that a man
enters into the picture, as the sea covers most of her body. As she
experiences the related emotions, it seems as though she will be consumed
by this man. He introduces her to new wonders that allure like silver and
pearls. But she finally returns to "the sold town" and leaves behind the
sea of emotions, which also retracts from her as she finds that society and
sex don't necessarily mix.
Comment 9 of 161, added on September 15th, 2004 at 5:25 PM.
I see the main character as depressed and overwhelmed with life. The sea is
alluring and a tease. The extended hands from the ship are inviting.
Some of the things that stand out to me as signs of her being depressed
are: Her reference to mermaids(beautiful) in the basement(dark, cold) - The
ship makes her feel small, like a mouse - She wears simple shoes and an
apron -She is probably married and not happy - She says no man has moved
her until the tide.
The tide is an escape or fantasy for her. She is very sensitive as it
covers every part of her body to her bodice. She describes it as having
“silver heels” and on her shoes it overflows with pearl. Momentarily, she
is bathed in nice things and nice feelings.
But, when the sea gets as far as it can go on the beach, it turns around
with a "might look" and leaves her. She temporarily gets out of her
reality, and unites with the sea.
Comment 8 of 161, added on September 15th, 2004 at 1:30 PM.
Corey did a good job of analyzing this poem with a feminist theory, but I
would like to take a different approach. I agree with many of Corey's
observations, but see this poem as a way to escape the patriarchal male and
have an experience as a woman rather than a poem showing the male dominance
oppressing her. The sea acts as a place of refuge. It is secluded and
distant from her own world. When she gets to this place who greets her upon
her arrival? Mermaids greet her, not mermen. They are other women enviting
her to be herslef for a short time. The frigate can truly be seen as male
dominance, but more in the mind of the narrator than an actual presence.
The frigate reminds her of her place in society (a small mouse), but she
stands defiantly and says "But no man moved me". She allows herself to be
carried a way in a semi-sexual experience with the sea. She lets go for a
minute and lets the tide envelop her in a moment of pleasure. The tide that
makes to eat her whole can be seen as her own desires of freedom nearly
overcoming her learned method of behavior. When she "started--too--", I
think the narrator is frightened by her own feelings of desire and starts
for home before she gives in completely. All the way back to the "solid
town" the tide is keeping to her heels, reminding her or enticing her back.
Instead the tide realizes it has no place there, for it recognizes nothing.
Her inside desires(sea) then bow out to her need to go back to her place in
society, for good or ill.
Comment 7 of 161, added on September 14th, 2004 at 6:10 PM.
Like many have stated in the previous comments, I feel that in this poem
Dickinson is showing an inner conflict. This woman with her dog has come
down to the beach, leaving the town behind her. You can almost hear the sea
calling to her when Dickinson speaks of the 'mermaids in the basement'. She
is prepared to let the sea take her to where her desires lay, however
another slight obstacle avails. The frigate seems to have a looming
presence over her which makes her feel small and lost. Dickinson does this
by using the word 'mouse' to describe the speaker. However, even with the
frigate overhead, the speaker gives in to her desires (perhaps very sexual)
and lets the sea come up. It has a very sexual connotation when the sea
makes its way slowly up her leg and then finally to her bodice. Also, as in
Kate Chopin's novel THE AWAKENING, the sea is a symbol of sensuous thoughts
and desires and often characters escape to the sea to fulfill these. As the
speaker then turns on the sea and starts back to the town, the sea cannot
follow, because there society lies and her desires must stay 'at harbor'.
Comment 6 of 161, added on September 14th, 2004 at 9:11 AM.
To me this Poem screams SEXUALITY. I read, and as I read I began to blush.
The more I tried to interpret and categorize the work the more raw and
blatant the sexuality. I want to look at the imagery created by
Dickinson's words. She began early, whether she is awake or in a dream is
not important; I however, believe she is dreaming. She takes a dog. A
symbol of base instincts and indiscriminant sexual practice. The cleft
image of tails of the "mermaids in the (her) basement/ Came out to look"
another sex image, this one of her female sex. The upper floor extends to
her, a knotted rough rope, again an image of sexuality this time male.
This idea of the men on the frigates as seamen was put forth in another
critique I only mention it is an image of male sexuality. Directly behind
the male symbol is another veiled reference to female sexuality, a mouse,
small and helpless. The next stanza seems to be more masturbatory than any
other sex act. When no man moves her but she still feels the rhythmic
waves of the tide move up her legs past the hem of her apron even to her
bodice she becomes consumed by the sensation, consumed by the waves of
energy pulsating through her as powerful as the sea she feels overcome,
powerless and small. The act moves from being about one person to the
union of two in the fifth stanza. Remember the image of the dog as “He
followed -- close behind / I felt his Silver Heel / Upon my Ankle – Then my
Shoes / Would overflow with Pearl –.“ This style of union is base and about
power. Power the man behind her holds and she does not. She derives her
power from his need as they neared the town and she makes to leave this
dream of sensuality behind he throws her a “Might” look, a look of desire,
a fervent wish expressed with his eyes for her to stay with him. He sees
that she will not and withdraws powerless and alone. The bleak loveless
sex of the poem may echo Dickinson’s own life or may be simply an
expression of powerlessness.
Comment 5 of 161, added on September 14th, 2004 at 5:46 AM.
Since no one has done a feminist viewpoint yet I guess I will, yes I know
I’m I guy but not all guys are complete pigs. Anyway, the first thing that
jumps out at me is when she gets to the sea she sees mermaids in the
“Basement” and frigates on the “Upper Floor”. I’m presuming that who ever
is working the Frigates is male, because they are called seamen not
seawomen after all. To prove this point spell check didn’t recognize
seawomen as it did seamen. So obviously it shows that the men are above
the women and keeping them suppressed, underneath them if you will. It
goes on to describe the tide moving over her and mentions her plain shoes,
apron, belt and bodice, perfect attire for spending the day in the kitchen
baking up something for the man. Then she talks about how the sea, which
she refers to as masculine, follows her, his heel catching her ankle,
trying to slow her down until she reaches the town, symbolizing going to
the city to seek what opportunities it would provide a women and finally
the sea realizes her independence and bows with a “Might look” and
withdraws, symbolizing the slow but steady acceptance of women in a male
dominated society. This may be a plumb that fell way of the tree but
that’s the way I see it.
Comment 4 of 161, added on September 13th, 2004 at 10:51 PM.
As my esteemed colleague has already stolen the Freudian analysis of this
poem, I'll have to go with a Marxist one. And here goes.
When the poem begins, Emily refers to visiting the Sea. The term "visiting"
is immediate personification, meaning that (as usual in poetry) a cigar is
not just a cigar; or in this case, the sea is not just the sea. More on the
Sea later. The word "takes" in relation to her dog is also significant, in
that it refers to the dog as a sort of material possession. The fact that
it is Emily's only possession that she mentions taking suggests an
anti-Capitalist spin: her four-legged companion is the only thing that's
truly important to her; she leaves everything else behind.
The Frigates and the Mermaids reflect the upper and lower classes, which is
emphasized by their position in the upper floor and basement respectively.
While the lower classes can only stare in wonder at Emily (who is more
fortunate than they), the upper classes extend a patronizing hand to her,
assuming that because she is not like them (she doesn't have as many
possessions) that she wants to be. However, she doesn't accept, showing
that she is content without the Capitalist view of wealth. Of additional
importance is that Mermaids are typically shown to possess nothing,
although they are always portrayed as happy and carefree. Although they
have nothing material to offer Emily, they tempt her with a promise of a
The Tide seems to embody the spirit of abandoning society. It is certainly
very seductive to want to escape from it all, and the Sea seems to be the
"Man" that is moving Emily (or, I should say, the speaker). When she feels
she is about to be consumed by her desire to release her earthly cares and,
perhaps, leave the world entirely, she has a change of heart. The seductive
nature of the Sea is emphasized by the use of "Silver" and "Pearl," showing
that the Sea can match any of the commodities valued in the Capitalist
When she returns to society, the Sea understands. It bows and withdraws,
seeming to suggest that it is still there in case she should change her
mind. And what does "Might" mean? Is it "mighty", meaning profound? Or is
the Sea saying that the speaker "might" yet accept its offer? I do not
But what do I REALLY think it means? When I first read it (without trying
to find all that deeper meaning in it), I simply looked at it as Emily's
experimentation with suicide and the nature of living. But that doesn't
completely jive with the Marxist thing, so I'll leave it for someone else
to comment on. There is also naturally all sorts of id and superego and
Emily’s sensual nature repressed by society, but as I’d hate to repeat my
eminent compatriot who has already explored this issue, I shall leave it at
Comment 3 of 161, added on September 13th, 2004 at 1:06 PM.
The way that I see this poem Emily Dickinson is talking about some sort of
struggle that is happening. The phrase "But no Man moved Me" seems to say
that she didn't initiate the conflict but then the "Tide" came. It started
to engulf her slowly, piece by piece until she realized what was happening.
She then "started -- too --". "He followed -- close behind --" is saying
that although she had a different opinion and wanted out so to speak, the
conflict was still there until she reached a point where the conflict could
no longer reside in "we met the solid town" the sea withdrew. The conflict
Comment 2 of 161, added on September 10th, 2004 at 4:32 PM.
This poem seems to be begging for a Freudian analysis, which--lucky me--is
exactly what I'm here to give.
To me, this poem is all about the conflict between the narrator's id and
her superego. The id, or basic, forbidden instincts, is portrayed as the
ocean and the mermaids (themselves very sensual creatures) in the ocean.
The superego, which represents the morals society imposes on us, is shown
to be frigates watching over her and viewing her dispassionately to be only
a mouse in need of their help, unable to make good decisions without their
help. The mermaids are said to be in the basement, while the frigates are
in the upper floor. This makes even more sense when viewed from a Freudian
angle, as the id is often thought of as "base" instincts while the superego
is "higher" desires.
What happens to the narrator is worth noting. While the frigates watch
from afar, the ocean moves in an covers her in a very sexy scene. It moves
in like a lover: past her shoe, her apron, her belt, and her bodice, as
though it would eat her up. It follows behind her so long as she stays on
the beach, but as soon as she goes to the town it withdraws, as it cannot
follow her into the realm where society and imposed morality wait.
I think that maybe we should give Emily and Sigmund some time along now.
Until next time...
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