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24 August 2011

Once more, my now bewildered Dove

Once more, my now bewildered Dove
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 second stanza, a reprise, adds to the metaphor: The poet, urging her confused Dove onward, reminds the bird that Noah’s dove ventured out and returned three times in its search for land. The poet’s ‘brave Columba’ (Latin for ‘dove’) should hope for land, too.
            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. 


  1. I love this blog. I just started reading poetry. I'm 36. I guess it's never too late. I'm going through The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson now. This website is helping me a lot.

    1. I just started reading The Complete Poems too--inspired by the Apple TV+ series Dickinson--one poem every morning, then I check in here to see how Susan ("the Bee") interprets it. I'm 54, and I'm so happy to have started this little journey! Enjoy!

    2. Y'all just remember that I'm not the last word and I often look back and think, 'How did I come up with that?' But I, too, started reading the Complete Poems and found myself often mystified. And I wished there were a blog for that. And so it began.

    3. I just really enjoy having someone to think about the poem with me! Thank you so much for keeping up on this huge project!