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.
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.ReplyDelete
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!Delete
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.Delete
I just really enjoy having someone to think about the poem with me! Thank you so much for keeping up on this huge project!Delete
You’ve given a congregation of disparate souls a sanctuary for sharing feelings and thoughts across time (28 June 2011 to present) and space (everywhere to here). Thank you. Your willingness to say, “I'm not the last word and I often look back and think, 'How did I come up with that?” is an example of why we keep returning to The Prowling Bee.
The last paragraph of your essay above is another reason we feel welcome to express feelings and ideas that follow a road less traveled by, or, as ED says in ‘My wheel is in the dark’, “an unfrequented road—": “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 first few years after Susan’s 1856 marriage to ED’s brother, Austin, were hard on ED because Susan tried to be a good wife, attentive to her husband’s needs, leaving ED feeling abandoned. Apparently, days and even weeks would pass without a response from Susan to ED’s letters and poems. It was a tough time for Susan, too, perhaps explaining why it was five years before the arrival of their first child.
Susan Dickinson’s daughter, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, tells us that later she and her siblings were the “dove” carrying letters, notes, and poems back and forth between The Homestead and The Evergreens. For example, “‘Barkis is willin’ was a message carried more than once by the children between her [ED] and their mother without any realization of its import” (Bianchi. 1924). In 1859, the dove was the postman or ED herself, leaving letters and poems on Susan’s front porch.
Thank you, Larry! And thank you for all the enrichment your ED studies are bringing to the blog.Delete