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 —

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

39 Comments

  1. katarina says:

    i love this poem it reminds me of my brother max

  2. nimituatha trealla says:

    I had to memorize this poem for school. Its kewl

  3. french student says:

    I am french and I just need help about E D’s poem 520…
    Please send me a mail if you can.
    thanks a lot

  4. Salty says:

    ‘Went past my simple Shoe – And past my Apron – and my Belt and past my Bodice – too-‘This third stanza describes the actions of the lover as being extremely erotic these sexual references makes it appear as though the lover devours her body and the woman is being stripped it can be seen as a very aggressive manner. The capitalisation of the items being stripped makes the act seem very rough as though the woman is being treated as a sexual object. On the other hand this sexual reference can be seen as a very passionate moment for the woman as it can be viewed as arousing sexual feelings and desire.

  5. kmn says:

    this is a depressed woman!

  6. Jaden Malone says:

    Colombia’s vice president is “baffled” by Kate Moss’s success following cocaine allegations…

  7. Alison says:

    you all have a good idea about what the poems and i love to read ur ideas. lol.

    alison

  8. *Cassie*-*Wilder* says:

    This is inspiering to me it give me a hope in sid that not one yet havs a love for poetry that had not been yet found!!
    oxox*Cass*oxox0

  9. elizabeth says:

    i think this poem is tring to tell us that she is swiming and the water is a around her. when she feels like a mouse it is because the ocean is so big compared to her. when the water recedes it is becuase she is getting out of the water

  10. Jamie Katinok, 16 says:

    I think the poem could relate to God since He is always capitalized & his faith is taking over creating her a new whole new person, or that the sea could symbolize a man. She used to be a stiff character but he seems to blow her away! & she falls in S2 with him, & becomes a whole new person, I have a lot more to say but my mom is making me get off.

  11. Trieste says:

    This poem is about sex. It’s extremely erotic, and despite E.D.’s depression, she wrote a lot of sexual poems. The sea is a metaphor for a man, (or a woman,) and the manner in which the “sea” devours her body–the first man that ever moved her–is sensual. You can even find the climax in the poem.

  12. ashleigh says:

    this poem is sad, bcoz she is gona commit suicide. by the way sum of your comments are funny!!

  13. Cynth says:

    In this poem Emily Dickinson is setting out to commit suicide.

    The mermaids in the basement were some people living in the damp basement watching her go.

    The frigates were big important people living on the top floor. They too watched her go in an unfriendly (hempen hands) disdainful way, making her feel like a little mouse.

    She uses the analogies “mermaids” and “frigates” because the sea is on her mind.

    No man stopped her, so she wades into the sea.

    God was in the power of the sea, and it looked as though He was going to devour her, but He decides to save her instead. He follows her, she felt Him in the waves lapping round her ankles that reminded her of pearls, and God’s “silver heel”

    She was washed back up on the shore “solid town” then God gave her a mighty look and departed in the form of the sea.

    This poem is about redemption, she sets out to commit suicide but is saved to live another day. Emily Dickinson was depressed, she had Bright’s disease, she clearly fantasized about suicide all alone in her room dressed in white, and that is what this poem is about.

  14. joycelyne says:

    i liked it and its was good!!!!!!!

  15. kit kat says:

    i didn’t read the poem so i’m not sure what to say about it except i dont like poems cause they suck!

  16. Nancy says:

    To understand this poem, you must read every word out loud, and word by word, like piece by piece, will you understand it. As poems use precise words, it is very helpful if you think about why Emily used some of the words.

    My opinion of this poem is that it is very emotional, and the point she talks about it is very creative…

  17. nat and ken says:

    this poem clearly shows the difference between morbidosity and ones ability to feel. If one could summarize this poem in one word it would be, “holy wowzers.” i can relate… this is how i roll. one time i took these wierd pills and had an experience similar to this morbid poem i read here. straight out of compton

  18. nikki ainsworth says:

    WOW i like your poem its one of a kind.its realy funny
    she should be very proud

  19. Emily says:

    This is a good poem by Emily Dickinson…
    she shows great mood and feeling ,

  20. ariel long says:

    I think this poem was a great poem lots of love in it

  21. sherry says:

    I feel this poem is about depression. As we all know Dickinson suffered from depression and perhaps agoraphonia. The journey she takes in the poem is not a one-day journey but a long searching and life changing one. She starts out early (young) with her dog (a tie to earthly things) sees Mermaids in the basement (depression), Grigates in the upper floor (others who are not experiencing depression) and she feels like a mouse stuck in the sand (little, insignificant, unable to move forward). No man (nothing) could change her mood until the Tide came up and enveloped her (swallowed her up – deeper and deeper into depression) as dew on a dandelions sleeve (again insignificant, small, unable to fight) and she started to go with the flow (death) but she didn’t. The HE must be God since it is capitalized. Thus God was the one that called her to a final rest-death. She turned from “death” and walked away but the thought of death was still on her mind (close behind on her heels). The shoes overflowing with pearls could be like the parable of the oyster that had a grain of sand in his shell that gave him much discomfort but over time turned into a pearl thus her depression and whatever was the root of it caused her pain and discomfort but she held on and finally the depression got better (on Solid Town). God saw she was okay and bowed to her and left her alone.

  22. Evy says:

    This poem is great, but it is about Emily Dickinson having an orgasim. We have spoken about this poem in my literature class and my professor as well as the entire class agreed upon that what is happening to Dickinson in this poem is that she is having an organism. But she does not know how to explain it.

  23. Max McCann says:

    OK. I’m seeing this poem in a completely different way, and am in not way saying that anyone is right nor wrong. When I read this poem I think that Emily is talking about death, which quite a few of her poems are based around. Also during her life she had many people she knew die around her and around the age of 23 she committed herself to her room and practically never came out. Authors writings tend to reflect they’re lives aswell, so I think that Emily’s poem is talking about death. At the beginning of the poem she seems to start her life, rather happily, like a normal person. She sees some people, not necessarily like the people we see today, but mermaids. Then she sees the frigate, which could be heaven, and its trying to help her because in the whole scheme of things she is just a tinny little thing, practically the size of an atom, if compared to the universe, in this poem though she is called a mouse, and she is just another thing on the earth. And the hands of the frigate are trying to force her to come up to Heaven, hemp is course and rough, which show that the hands are trying to force her to do something, but she wouldn’t go, at least until the tide came, posibbly an angel, but porbably not God himself. This angel, or the tide, slowly started engulfing her, or rather taking her to heaven, in essence, dying. Then it says, “And made as He would eat me up –,” ‘he’ is capitalized, which is a reference to God. The dew is relating back to the ocean, which is so vast and huge, and she is just another small part of it. Then she started, as in she started to live again almost as if she had a near death experience. Once again ‘he’ is capitalized and He is trying to get her to come with him, to keep going, but she keeps going away and as she gets further away from him he looses his grasp on her, but is refering to the silvery reflection you see in the water as the thing that is at her heel. Because of her ‘moment’, near death experience, she has taken something away with her that is very dear, just as a pearl is very important to someone who goes into the ocean and finds one, but they weren’t specifically looking to find a pearl. Finally when she came back to reality, or back to town, she’d completely come back to life, and He, God, didn’t know anybody because he is from Heaven, and doesn’t know anyone one from Earth. Then by bowing, which can mean: To bend (the head, knee, or body) to express greeting, consent, courtesy, acknowledgment, submission, or veneration. He let her go back to the world and withdrew is attempt to take her.

  24. Max McCann says:

    OK. I’m seeing this poem in a completely different way, and am in now way saying that anyone is right nor wrong. When I read this poem I think that Emily is talking about death, which quite a few of her poems are based around. Also during her life she had many people she knew die around her and around the age of 23 she committed herself to her room and practically never came out. Authors writings tend to reflect they’re lives aswell, so I think that Emily’s poem is talking about death. At the beginning of the poem she seems to start her life, rather happily, like a normal person. She sees some people, not necessarily like the people we see today, but mermaids. Then she sees the frigate, which could be heaven, and its trying to help her because in the whole scheme of things she is just a tinny little thing, practically the size of an atom, if compared to the universe, in this poem though she is called a mouse, and she is just another thing on the earth. And the hands of the frigate are trying to force her to come up to Heaven, hemp is course and rough, which show that the hand are trying to force her to do something, but she wouldn’t go, at least until the tide came, posibbly an angel, but porbably not God himself. This angel, or the tide, slowly started engulfing her, or rather taking her to heaven, in essence, dying. Then it says, “And made as He would eat me up –,” ‘he’ is capitalized, which is a reference to God. The dew is relating back ot the ocean, which is so vast and huge, and she is just another small part of it. Then she started, as in she started to live again almost as if she had a near death experience. Once again ‘he’ is capitalized and He is trying to get her to come with him to keep going, but she keeps going and as she gets further away from him he looses his grasp on her, but is refering to the silvery reflection you see in the water as the thing that is at her heel. Because of her ‘moment’, near death experience, she has taken something away with her that is very dear, just as a pearl is very important to someone who goes into the ocean and finds one, but they weren’t specifically looking to find it. Finally when she came back to reality, or back to town, she’d completelly come back to life, and He, God, didn’t know anybody because he is from Heaven, and doesn’t know anyone one from Earth. Then by bowing, which can mean: To bend (the head, knee, or body) to express greeting, consent, courtesy, acknowledgment, submission, or veneration. He let her go back to the world and withdrew is attempt to take her.

  25. Adam Winger says:

    This poem may be interpreted using various methods but however it is unfoled the language is excellently employed in a visual array of images which offer the internal struggle found on the borders of the sea. I think that there is internal dilema which is played begore her mind as she looks and feels that she is followed by the man.

  26. jennifer jarrett says:

    I thought that this poem was so great. I really haven’t got the opportunity to read a lot of dickinson yet but this was a lot different from the popular writings I have read of hers. The main person in the poem is so depressed. It is depicted through a stuggle that she needs to go through. I think that Emily experiments and grows through her sexual experiements and looks for meaning in her life.

  27. Matt Steele says:

    I won’t start by saying that I’m some kind of expert on this type of thing. I’m not even close. To tell you the truth I hate when people analyse someone else’s writings. I once had a teacher tell me what I was really trying to say in a paper. I think that really, only the author knows what they are talking about, or if there is even any deeper meaning. But, as you may have already guessed, our class was assigned the job for this poem, so, what the hey, I guess I can b.s. with the best of them.

    I think that this poem is about depression. I don’t believe that she really went to the beach, nor did she bring her dog. Typically the beach is a happy place. Most people start out happy in their lives, though we tend to not stay that way forever. The dog, to me, is also a mark of hapiness, and I think that it’s significant that she only mentions it at the beginning. The mermaids are people that look in on the authors life, that see her beginning to drowned and do nothing about it. I think that the major point for my view is made in the paragraph,

    “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.”

    She falls deeper and deeper, felling like she is being swallowed up, with nothing that she can do. I don’t even really see an end to this depression, just an end to life. The author was obviously troubled, and had many problems, whether real, or imagined.

    Take all of this with a handful of salt though, because, like I said, I feel like analysis is b.s.

  28. Jeff says:

    I felt this poem had many deep meanings about life, and the way things go at times. I think that there are many times and oppurtunities that makes a person feel alive and gives them a reason to rise early to make the most of every moment. Then there are times that make people feel like the end has come or that the tide has set, and at these time it causes one to reflect on there journey that is coming to a close, this could be a sad time to see somthing come to end, but it also can be the start of a new adventure. So what ever it is that causes you to start early, pursue it with full purpose, because you never know when that tide will set.

  29. Amanda Marinello says:

    Everything from apples to arrows to cats, even trains going through tunnels, is representative of not only intercourse, but male domination. Perchance even the frigates in this poem symbolize the power and persuassiveness of men – riding high on the waters of sexual desires. They steer their chosen courses, and roughly with hemped hands engage presumably innocent mice(women). Interestingly, the narrator is not sexually aroused until she overwhelmed, drowned, in a flurry of eroticism. Her ego is no longer in control, as the floods of water break through her clothes and symbolic chastity. The narrator’s superego had allowed her to walked a balanced line between land and ocean – morality and animalistic pleasure – but no more. She has succomed to the domination of men, and the control that they exert with their “frigates.”

    and you thought the world was all about mermaids and beach vacations…

  30. Mindy B says:

    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.

  31. Sarah Pincock says:

    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.

  32. Ryan Webb says:

    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.

  33. Stephanie says:

    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.

  34. Stephanie says:

    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).

  35. Maren says:

    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 withdraws.

  36. Steve Martinn says:

    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. Dickinson!”

  37. Melanie Busby says:

    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.

  38. Jodi Dancsak says:

    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.

  39. Arti Olsen says:

    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.

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