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20 August 2011

My Wheel is in the dark!

My Wheel is in the dark!
I cannot see a spoke
Yet know its dripping feet
Go round and round.

My foot is on the Tide!
An unfrequented road—
Yet have all roads
A clearing at the end—

Some have resigned the Loom—
Some in the busy tomb
Find quaint employ—

Some with new—stately feet—
Pass royal through the gate—
Flinging the problem back
At you and I!
                                             J10,  Fr 61 (1859)

Here we have a mishmash of metaphors. Dickinson would get much better at consistency later. In the first metaphor the poet likens life to the wheel of a paddle boat turning in the dark. Its paddles drip with water as it goes ‘round and round’. And so our days are filled with the sights and sounds of life as the years go round. We know we are on a journey, for the paddle boat travels somewhere and life must travel to its end, but we don’t know where we’re headed.

Paddle boat with its 'dripping feet'

The second metaphor introduces a Tide and likens it to an unfrequented road. Tides go in and out and since boats typically avoid the strongest flows, are ‘unfrequented’. This tide has a clearing at the end. The assumption here is that the tide is a road and since roads have clearings at the end (do they really?), so the tide will as well. It’s a call to faith: yes, the Tide is going out, but be of good cheer and venture forth for there is surely a clearing at the end.
The third stanza metaphor goes back to the water, but this time in a different guise. The Loom here refers to the portion of an oar that terminates at the handle  (the blade is the other end that terminates in the paddle). This is a different boat than the one with the  paddle boat of the first stanza. This one must be rowed, and while some people paddle on to the other side, others get weary and give up. I’m not sure what ‘quaint employ’ are embarked on by some, but perhaps it is being a ghost, or just hanging out as Dickinson describes in other poems where she chats with the occupant of a neighboring grave, or waits patiently for a loved one to join her. I like the idea of a ‘busy tomb’, however. It’s sort of a cosy limbo.
In the last stanza we leave the water behind to see the Faithful walking in stately fashion through the pearly gates. They are now ‘royal’ and don’t take the time to let those of us toiling at our Wheel in the dark or venturing into the Tide or paddling away know what lies on the other end. The gate, of course, stands for Heaven.
While the first, second, and fourth stanzas all have four lines, the third has only three. Perhaps Dickinson didn’t want to say what the entombed are up to in there.

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