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

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Comment 6 of 386, 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 386, 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.

Corey Johnson
Comment 4 of 386, 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
carefree life.
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

Daniel Nyikos
Comment 3 of 386, 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
was over.

Sarah Young
Comment 2 of 386, 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...

Benny Nyikos
Comment 1 of 386, added on September 10th, 2004 at 2:47 PM.

In this poem by Emily Dickinson, the speaker is telling of deep emotions.
As Lois Tyson explains in CRITICAL THEORY TODAY, water can be a symbol of
emotions-often deep, fluid and changeable, and even dangerous.
As the speaker is alone with her thoughts (and her dog) on a walk, her
imagination takes her on a journey through her deep emotions- deep becuase
of the reference to the "mermaids in the basement," a basement that is
below the surface. The speaker's emotions perhaps about someone, are the
"Tide" that makes her feel small, like a "mouse." She is also little like a
"Dandelion's Sleeve" that is enveloped in "Dew." The powerful emotions the
speaker is feeling seem to completely absorb her. Only when she is no
longer alone with her thoughts and enters into the "Solid Town" of society
does her emotional "Sea" "withdr[a]w" and take a back seat in her
imagination as she is rescued from drowning in them.

Reva Kate

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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: 1038 times
Poem of the Day: Aug 15 2007

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