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Analysis and comments on I started Early -- Took my Dog -- by Emily Dickinson

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Comment 17 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 4:20 PM.

I think one could find several ways to look at the meaning behind this
poem. When applying the idea of dream symbolism you could take Dickinson's
poem as a dream written down and search for the latent content of that
dream. It seems to me that the poem is describing the power of sex. It's
saying a woman can be controlled easily by a man and then left behind just
as quickly. As mentioned by others I think it's obvious that the water is
male sexuality. The mermaids, who are a female symbol, are described to be
in the basement where they belong but get to come up for a minute to glance
at the other woman. The woman walking on the beach is then approached by
the male. He surrounds her and proceeds to journey up her body receiving
the statisfaction he needs and then just as quickly he abandons her after
reaching town because she is no longer desired.

Mindy B
Comment 16 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 3:51 PM.

In I stated Early-- I walked my Dog there are many ways to interpret this
with a psychoanalytical perspective. In the begining of this piece she
started her journey to the sea. The sea has the symbolic meaning and
connotation of femininity. It seems as though the protaginist of this piece
ispiece is entering into the female domain where the "mermaids...came out
to look at me." The narrator is secluded from this different world. She had
to arrive there and when she does the mermaids stare. This displays
feelings of isolation and seclusion. Then she goes to the frigates, or in
other word to a big boat. This sea metaphor takes on a new level. It
becomes the man domain of adventure and excitement, but unlike the mermaids
the people on the boat invite the narrtor to their realm with extended
"hempen hand," and yet there is no true acceptance because they think her a
"mouse." They see her from the sand. They see her and want her to come
'join their fun.' These boatmen want to use her and entice her to come
aboard. The narrator would have with held and stood her ground because "no
man moved me." This demonstrates the philosiphy of female suppres of
sexuality. The superego of the narrator has full control, but a quick
alteration happens when "the tide
went past my simple shoe." THe gratification of the id takes place here.
The water slowly emerges to engulf her whole body. THe narrator goes on to
diplay the repression of her sexuality as the water penetrates "past my
apron and my belt and past my bodice too." This graphically portrays a
passion that overcomes her whole body. THe narrator comes back to her when
she "started too." She flees from this escape from the protocols of
society, but her superego comes back to her and she must get back to town.
The id follows close behind "I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle then my shoes." THe id doesn't want to be supressed from the
pleasure it so desires. It not until the protagonist gets back to town that
the "sea withdrew." Back in the would of indoctorinated rules and ethics to
be lived by. The narrator goes back to norms of life.

Sarah Pincock
Comment 15 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 2:44 PM.

I see this work as many other Emily Dickinson poems a bash on the roles of
women compared with men. The speaker leaves early to go for a walk becuase
she is a women and could be looked down upon if she were out for pleasure.
She goes to the sea with the hope to find refuge and relief from the daily
strains of womanhood in the 1800's. Just when she should be feeling
peaceful and in full enjoyment of the moment the wave (with male gender
implied) comes and chases her off the beach and sends her back to where she
should be in the home. Dickinson is expressing the male dominance or rather
the attempt of male dominance over women.

Ryan Webb
Comment 14 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 2:00 PM.

To me the strongest image in this poem is the sea and the girl's flirtation
with it. At first she looks at it and then she gets in. Frued would say
that the sea is a sexual image. I believe that this is the girl's first
time giving into her id. She seems almost selfconcious that the mermaids
(women who are more sexually advice than she) are look at her. The seamen
are also more sexually adviced because these people live on/in the sea.
She feels like a mouse becuase she is inexperienced compaired to the others
around her. The word pearl could signify the girl's virginity because it
is something valuable. I get the impression that she is young becuase in
the first line it says that she started early.

Comment 13 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 1:43 PM.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I read this poem was that Frued
would love this. The strongest image in this poem is the sea and the
girl's flirtation with it. She looks at it for a while and then gets in.
This is a classic image of sexuality. The girl feels like a mouse so maybe
she feels inexperienced or that this is her first time she has really given
into these feelings and let her id take over. Ms. Dickinson uses the word
pearl and to me that could represent her virginity something valuable that
she has given up or given to him. So perhaps this poem is about a girl who
loses her virginity. I feel like this is her first time because it seems
like the speaker is very new to the sea experience in the way that she
describes it. She focuses on details of the mermaids (perhaps women who
are more sexually experienced than she) and she seems almost self conscious
that they are looking at her, and the seamen (also very expereinced becuase
these people reside in/on the sea).

Comment 12 of 397, added on September 16th, 2004 at 12:09 PM.

To me this poem is about the internal struggle of the id and superego. In
the begining of the poem the woman "started early--took my dog-- And
visited the sea" This gives the sense of innocence but at the same time she
goes to the sea as if she knows the social values that restrict her and
that she is fighting them by going to her desires. The mermaids in the
basement, her mystical hidden passions, come out to tempt her. In fact
everything at the sea is trying to get her to give into her id. The
Frigates "extened hemper hands Presuming me to be a mouse Aground--upon the
sand" This makes me think that her desires are calling her and making her
feel "weak." Her superego holds her back to the sexuallity that society
frowns on when she says "But no man moved me" Then she feels the emotions
and desires throughout her body with the tide and begins to give in to the
physical sensations of the moment. Even when she is in the moment is seems
as if there is still a feeling of resistance: "And made as he would eat me
up." This is as if she is worried of being devoured until she says, "And
then--I started too." The internal confict continues at the end of the poem
where the superego comes back when they meet the "Solid Towm" where "No one
He seems to know." This is her knowledge of what society says that she
should do and the id is in conflict with that so doesn't belong there and

Comment 11 of 397, 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
move on!
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
nervous palm…

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.

Steve Martinn
Comment 10 of 397, 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.

Melanie Busby
Comment 9 of 397, 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.

Jodi Dancsak
Comment 8 of 397, 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.

Arti Olsen

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Information about I started Early -- Took my Dog --

Poet: Emily Dickinson
Poem: 520. I started Early -- Took my Dog --
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: 1955
Added: Jan 9 2004
Viewed: 1609 times
Poem of the Day: Aug 15 2007

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