Bestirs her puzzled wings
Once more her mistress, on the deep
Her troubled question flings—
Thrice to the floating casement
The Patriarch's bird returned,
Courage! My brave Columba!
There may yet be Land!
- F 65 (1859)
The poet sends her dove out over the ocean with a troubling question. The dove, it is implied, is to bring back an answer. The dove is confused: where is she to go? where should she take this question?
The Dove is a traditional symbol of the spirit. Sending your spirit out over ‘the deep’ would be searching for the answers to deep questions: death, afterlife, nature of the Divine, etc. Since Noah was on the deep in an ark (here, the ‘floating casement’) following God’s command, we infer that the poem’s speaker is concerned with faith – something solid as land.
While ‘Clolumba’ is another word for dove, it also conjures up Columbus—another explorer on the deep with an important question. Noah built his ark on faith, Columbus launched his flotilla on faith, too.
The poem might be read as a tale of sending a real, human messenger several times on a fruitless mission. “Land”, then, would be finding the intended recipient. Perhaps Dickinson had been trying to get a message to someone. Perhaps she was waiting for an answer—for the Dove to return with the olive branch.
The spondees “Once More” that begin the first and third line establish a sense of urgency.