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03 April 2012

My eye is fuller than my vase –

My eye is fuller than my vase – 

Her Cargo – is of Dew – 

And still – my Heart – my Eye outweighs – 

East India – for you! 

                                                            F228 (1861)  202

East India Trading Co.
Sailing Ship
This short poem describes a state of love and longing. The poet starts with how full her eyes are of tears – and of love. They are more full of tears than her vase is of “Dew,” or water. That’s a lot of tears! I think the line can also be read that her eyes are more full of love than a vase is of water, and that the water / tear analogy is a reflection of the amount of love. The vase has it easy: what she carries, her “Cargo,” is only Dew while love and tears can be almost endless.
            Despite that, the poet’s heart “outweighs” the tear-heavy eyes. Love here takes on the resonance of cargo and tears. Clearly this love is not a simple, carefree one.
            The wealth of love and tears is compared to the riches of East India: costly spices, silks, ivory, indigo dye, diamonds,  and opium, among other luxuries. The poet claims that her love is deep and precious – and all of it “for you!” The poem would make a nice, albeit slightly sad, Valentine. Short and sweet!
            It’s written in alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter with a rather predictable rhyme of “Dew” and “you.”  


  1. Interesting commentary. This poem is certainly evocative despite its short length.

    The hyperbolic imagery is rich with suggestion. I am wondering if the reference to East India, being a land on which intense monsoon rains pour, also extends the imagery of tears shed for the absent lover in the first two lines?

    As an exotic land, East India additionally suggests the great emotional or physical distance between the speaker and her absent loved one.

    The slow pace of the poem, which is abundant with dashes, conveys the heavy burden of the weight of the speaker's sadness and yearning, too.

    1. Thank you for the comments. I find it interesting (now that I think about it) that in quite a few of Dickinson's poems an exotic location is central to the meaning and imagery. But she would be in tune with her times, I suppose, with famous explorers reporting on faraway lands and with artists such as Frederick Church depicting highly dramatic landscapes.

  2. In many poems and letters ED and Sue refer to each other as Antony and Cleopatra, respectively. Cleopatra was from Egypt, which both Elizabethans (e.g., Shakespeare) and Victorian artists, composers, playwrights, and poets (e.g., ED) often referred to as the Orient or the East (e.g., ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by Shakespeare and ED’s L203 to Kate Anton, March 1859, CAPS mine):

    ….”My heart votes for you, and what am I indeed to dispute her ballot-?-What are your qualifications? Dare you dwell in the EAST where we dwell? Are you afraid of the Sun? -When you hear the new violet sucking her way among the sods, shall you be resolute?” …. L203

    In the last two lines of’ ‘My eye is fuller than my vase’, “East India” is a metaphor for Sue:

    “Despite my sadness losing you, my heart holds more love than my eye holds tears /
    Sue – for you!”