Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 16

Thread: "I started Early--Took my Dog--"

  1. #1

    "I started Early--Took my Dog--"

    The following poem is one of the most interesting of Dickinson's poems that I have so far come across. Although it may be a radical interpretation, I do believe I have made a reasonable argument of who the speaker is in this poem.

    520
    I started Early—Took my Dog—
    And visited the Sea—
    The Mermaids in the Basement
    Came out to look at me—

    And Frigates—in the Upper Floor
    Extended Hempen Hands—
    Presuming Me to be a Mouse—
    Aground—upon the Sands—

    But no Man moved Me—till the Tide
    Went past my simple Shoe—
    And past my Apron—and my Belt
    And past my Bodice—too—

    And made as He would eat me up—
    As wholly as a Dew
    Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve—
    And then—I started—too—

    And He—He followed—close behind—
    I felt His Silver Heel
    Upon my Ankle—Then my Shoes
    Would overflow with Pearl—

    Until We met the Solid Town—
    No One He seemed to know—
    And bowing—with a Mighty look—
    At me—The Sea withdrew—

    Emily Dickinson

    c. 1862
    p. 1891


    From the beginning of time, man has been fascinated by the heavens. People have looked upon the seemingly infinite number of stars with wonder. And as time progressed, they began to deify these heavenly bodies. Names, rank, power, and personalities were given to the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Many stars were grouped together to form visual representations of their gods, which are what we now know as the constellations. Even today, we look up at the constellations in amazement. But what would it be like for the constellations to look down on us. This is a perspective that is explored by Emily Dickinson in her poem “I started Early—Took my Dog.” Although the speaker is traditionally believed to be a woman taking her dog for a walk on the beach, I argue that the speaker is actually Orion who is taking his celestial dog, Sirius, for a walk across the heavens.

    It is in the third stanza that we find our first clues that Orion might be the speaker in the poem. The poem specifically makes a reference to the clothing of the speaker which is swallowed up by the tide, which includes a shoe, apron, belt, and bodice (Dickinson 10-12). Now at first glance, this information in no way suggests that the speaker could be a constellation. But, we must ask ourselves why Dickinson chose to describe the clothing of the speaker, and not just the physical attributes. She could have easily stated that the tide rose above the speaker’s feet, legs, waist, and chest. But instead she chose to identify these specific items of clothing that happen to directly correspond to the most famous constellation in the sky (See Fig. 1). Interestingly, when the constellation Orion descends below the horizon in the winter, it disappears in exactly the same order given above: first the shoe, then the apron, then Orion’s belt, and then the bodice. However, this information alone does not, with any certainty, prove that the speaker is in fact a heavenly body. At this point, it would still appear more likely that the speaker is merely a woman taking a stroll on the beach. This, of course, is until we begin to take a closer look at the speaker’s companion, the dog.



    Fig. 1. Constellation of Orion (Abrams)

    The appearance of a dog in the first stanza of the poem also further supports the possibility that the speaker may be Orion. Initially, the speaker’s dog does not appear to serve any function within the poem. The only direct reference to it is in the first line of the first stanza, which states “Took my Dog—” (Dickinson 1). But after the first line, no further reference to it is made. So what is the purpose of including this seemingly arbitrary fact in the poem? Well, I suggest that it is included for the sole purpose of identifying the speaker as the constellation Orion. This is because Orion happens to be accompanied by a dog in the sky (See Fig. 2). This companion is known as Canis Major, the dog constellation. Canis Major is located just left, or from another perspective, following behind the Orion constellation. So the inclusion of the dog in the poem reinforces the idea that the speaker is Orion.



    Fig. 2. Orion and Canus Major Constellations (Astronomy)

    Now that we have established that the speaker may be Orion, the rest of the details from the first and second stanzas become clearer. In these stanzas, we are introduced to two new groups of characters, the mermaids and the sailors, who come out to see the speaker (Dickinson 3-8). According to popular mythology, mermaids were known to lure sailors away from their duties. But in the poem, it is the speaker, not the mermaids, that is the focus of the sailors’ attention. So what could make the sailors pay more attention to the speaker than the mermaids surrounding them? And what attribute of the speaker is so amazing that even the mermaids are lured to him? It could only be that there is something about the speaker which is even more fascinating than the surrounding mythological creatures, like the speaker being a god in the sky. Luckily, the sailors help us out by giving the location of the speaker. First of all, we know the speaker is far away from the sailors because they describe him as the size of a mouse, and have to point to the speaker to show the others. Anyone who has ever tried to show a companion a constellation in the night sky would know that it would be extremely difficult to identify the constellation without gesturing towards it. This is because a constellation, relative to the rest of the sky, can be as small as a “mouse.” Secondly, we know that the speaker is “Aground—upon the Sands” (Dickinson 8). Now, of course, this could merely be the sand of a beach. But, once again, anyone who has ever looked up in the night sky would agree that there are as many stars in the sky as there is sand on the beach. And when looking up at Orion and his dog, you can see that there are innumerable stars which appear as nothing more than sand compared to the brighter stars that make up the constellations (See Fig. 3). These celestial sand pebbles form the ground on which Orion and his dog walk.



    Fig. 3. Celestial Sand: Screenshot of Orion and Canis Major with background stars (Sky)

    Having already appeared in the poem, it is likely that the “He” in the fifth stanza could be a reference to the speaker’s dog. The poem states that “He followed—close behind—” (Dickinson 17). Well, we already know that the dog is walking with the speaker. However, the poem has not stated where the dog was walking in relationship to the speaker. It is possible that this is a reference to the speaker leading the way, while his dog is following. Now, when we look at the constellations of Orion and Canis Major, we can see that the dog is indeed following “close behind” Orion in his journey across the heavens. Also, the dog fulfills another requirement of this character. The poem states that “I felt His Silver Heel/Upon my Ankle” (Dickinson 18-19). Now take a look at Figure 1. We can see that the lower left star is not the foot of Orion, but the bottom of the apron close to the knee. The ankle of Orion is much further below that star. Now notice the relationship between Orion and Canis Major in Figure 2. The ankle of Orion is close to the front paw, or heel, of the dog constellation. And the heel of the dog could accurately be described as the color of starlight, or silver.

    The third, fourth, and sixth stanzas show the earthly sea in conflict with the heavenly speaker in a battle of nature. In this section of the poem, the sea is attempting to swallow Orion and consume him. The poem states that the sea “made as He would eat me up—/As wholly as a Dew/Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve” (Dickinson 13-15). Dew is the water that collects on the ground during the night. The sea believes that Orion is just dew which the sea would have no problem consuming. However, the sea is mistaken because Orion is not made of water as he is not of this world. The sea realizes this, and withdraws from battle “bowing—with a Mighty look” (Dickinson 23-24). The sea does this because he now respects Orion, and comes to an understanding that nothing from earth can overcome the heavens. This insight reflects the speaker’s own thoughts in the third stanza: “But no Man moved Me” (Dickinson 9).

    So, this poem could possibly be about the day in the life of a god. This god, Orion, started off his day by taking his dog out for a walk on the celestial sands on the bank of the Milky Way. Along his journey, he looked down at Earth and saw mermaids and sailors looking up at him in wonder. But like every god, there was an imminent battle. The angry sea interrupted his stroll by trying to swallow him and his dog up. But the earthly sea was no match for the powers of the heavenly hunter and his companion, Sirius, who followed closely behind. Once the sea realized his attempt to conquer the sky had failed, he bowed and looked up in amazement at this powerful god, and then withdrew.


    Works Cited

    Abrams Planetarium. Michigan State University. 7 June 2006. <http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/Index.html>.
    Astronomy for Kids. Ed. Rick Morris. 2006. 7 June 2006. <http://www.dustbunny.com/afk/constellations/canismajor/canisorionmap.html>.
    Dickinson, Emily. “520: I started Early—Took my Dog”. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, 1960.
    The Sky: Asronomy Software. CD-ROM. Ver. 5.00.005. Golden, CO: Software Bisque, 1999. <http://www.bisque.com>.

    __________________
    Last edited by Scheherazade; 06-16-2006 at 11:44 AM. Reason: adding images

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    New York
    Posts
    20,352
    Blog Entries
    248
    I've never seen this Dickinson poem before. Wow. She amazes me. Thanks Djehuty. By the way, where is your interpretation. If it's too long, could you summarize it?
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  3. #3
    Virgil,

    This is a very interesting poem. I basically argue that the speaker in this poem is the constellation Orion walking his dog Sirius across the heavens. Yeah, I know it sounds radical, but I have been able to make a reasonable argument to prove that thesis.

    I've added the link to the whole analysis at the bottom of the main post. It is entitled "The Heavenly Speaker"

  4. #4
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Tweet @ScherLitNet
    Posts
    23,904
    Djehuty,

    Could you please post your interpretation on here as well, rather than putting a link to it?

    Thank you.
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  5. #5

  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Posts
    8,564
    Interesting interpretation, Djehuty - well done.
    Having found this as one of Dickinson's most difficult poems to understand, I have seen multiple, multiple interpretations, and feel a little partially in agreement and partially in disagreement with most of them. I have never encountered this poem connected with either Orion, Canis Major, or astronomy, but certainly see your argument as very valid.
    Of course, I do not disagree with your interpretation; all art will certainly share even the most drastically differing perspectives, and I certainly respect your obvious knowledge. Emily Dickinson, especially, will always seem one of the most mysterious poets in history, and difficult to understand, but I would also like to offer my interpretation.
    I started Early—Took my Dog—
    And visited the Sea—
    The Mermaids in the Basement
    Came out to look at me—

    And Frigates—in the Upper Floor
    Extended Hempen Hands—
    Presuming Me to be a Mouse—
    Aground—upon the Sands—

    But no Man moved Me—till the Tide
    Went past my simple Shoe—
    And past my Apron—and my Belt
    And past my Bodice—too—

    And made as He would eat me up—
    As wholly as a Dew
    Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve—
    And then—I started—too—

    And He—He followed—close behind—
    I felt His Silver Heel
    Upon my Ankle—Then my Shoes
    Would overflow with Pearl—

    Until We met the Solid Town—
    No One He seemed to know—
    And bowing—with a Mighty look—
    At me—The Sea withdrew—
    I think out of several of her poems, this one may range as one of her most autobiographical, yet, similarly to many others, reflecting on the subject of death.
    The first stanza, the introduction, merely emphasizes a walk; the dog, I think, only represents a companion, though I feel unsure whether even Dickinson ever owned a dog or pet. The dog, to me, may point out the intended casual manner of the stroll. With the mermaids gazing at the author, I find this especially ironic. As I feel that this poem seems rather autobiographical, I see how this may make Dickinson, especially, rather uncomfortable, as she lived much of her latter life away from others' communication, interaction, and even sight of her; how the mermaids see her, I find as significant as perhaps Dickinson stepping out of her comfort's bounds.
    In the second stanza, how mermaids rested on the basement floor, now frigates rest on the upper floor of the sea. Though I see how constellations can appear small, and rather mouse-like in size from any perspective on earth, I feel that the mouse-like appearance from frigates may have other meanings (the 'hempen hands' likely representing the ropes and connected anchors). Though Dickinson describes no perspective of the mermaids on the basement sea floor, the frigates see a mouse-like size and quality in her, perhaps emphasizing an inconspicuous and petty nature about the author, seeming so far, despite that the frigate rests more parallel to the author (as the sea's surface may look almost equal in plane to the land). Here, I think, begins some kind of reference to the sea, especially the floor, as something and somewhere Dickinson feels less petty and inconspicuous, and where she feels no fear of seeming perceived (as the mermaids view her).
    The third and fourth stanzas, firstly, suggest that perhaps the author did not entirely submit herself to the sea, but more like the sea submitted itself to her; she did not walk to it, but more it flowed to her. The referring to dew and dandelions makes me skeptical of one of the many references to death in Dickinson's poetry - how the sea may represent death, a place where Dickinson feels comfortable (as maybe indicated by the mermaids and frigate), and her submission lies more in death's approach, rather than her approach to death. Dandelions, of course, come wildly and organically from the ground (and dew may collect on dandelions, among other plants), and, for the majority, most of the deceased get buried in the ground additionally.
    The fifth stanza reads with a little more difficulty. The figure of death during Dickinson's time often seemed of the male gender, which the poet used, too, and I think that the "He" in the fifth stanza may refer to death, as represented by the sea engulfing her. The "silver heel" may refer to the foam and bright glow of the sea with the sun, moon, or stars reflecting, and the "pearl" may further refer to some of the organic pearls found in the sea among various creatures. Both the "silver heel" and "pearl," however, further emphasize the beauty of death, as represented by the sea, which Dickinson perhaps seems to desire, as the tone of the poem suggests.
    The final stanza tells of the conjoining of the author with death, as metaphorically represented in the sea. Even though the sea does not consist of a "solid town," as stated in the first line of the last stanza, I believe the "solid town" refers to a state of stability (as some phrase goes "death reduces all to equality"). As I mentioned before in the tone of the poem, Dickinson never quite submitted herself to the sea, or death, but more awaited the sea, or death, to approach her. In the last stanza, she especially points out the authoritarian and power of the sea ("with a Mighty look"), judging not her time of death, hence the sea, or death, withdraws.
    Of course, I do not disagree with your interpretation of the poem, Djehuty, and I, in fact, love and welcome the diversity of interpretations; I only offer my own, in addition.

  7. #7
    Excellent interpretation with great insight into Emily herself. The diversity in interpretations is the main reason her poetry appeals to me.

  8. #8
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Posts
    8,564
    Quote Originally Posted by Djehuty
    Excellent interpretation with great insight into Emily herself. The diversity in interpretations is the main reason her poetry appeals to me.
    Well said. Out of any poets, perhaps secondary to William Shakespeare, I feel that Emily Dickinson's poetry has an immense number of different interpretations; I do not necessarily debate others' thoughts and opinions, but it certainly proves the undeniably beautiful complexity of Dickinson. She continues as one of my most powerful inspirations, if not the most powerful, in all literature.

  9. #9
    Alja
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Cork, Ireland
    Posts
    12
    I quite like Djehuty's interpretation. I never really thought about this poem enough to try and work out what it mean for myself, although it did always seem to me that the "he" throughout the last two stanzas reffered to the sea. But what you say makes sense and i'm willing to believe that Emily actually ment it that way.

    But we'll never be sure of course, and most of the time we're (almost) free to choose our own interpretations. I get the impression that pretty much everyone who likes her agrees that there are different ways of seeing most of her poems and for that reason has a special place for Emily Dickinson in his/her heart

  10. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Posts
    1
    yours is the first piece i read on this link.. a new user..already beginning to like it a lot
    Gary

  11. #11
    Nah . . . Emily is simply describing her walk to the beach with her dog in her typical abstract, imaginary terms. She likes seeing things differently with child-like imagination like we did as kids lying on our backs looking up at the clouds and finding all kinds of shapes and storylines in them.

    It is more fun to see a rope as a “hempen hand” extended to a her as if she were a mouse looking to stow away, like mice do. She describes perfectly how the waves roll up on the shore, getting deeper and covering her period bodice and apron. Finally, she decides to retreat higher up the sloping beach away from the rising wave which, when spent, recedes with a bow.

    The poem is not scientific; it’s just playful and fun, like many others of hers.

  12. #12
    Poetry keeps me sane Sumaya's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    London
    Posts
    14
    I've always thought this poem was about a great passion; a man that moved her, especially the stanza:

    But no Man moved Me—till the Tide
    Went past my simple Shoe—
    And past my Apron—and my Belt
    And past my Bodice—too—

    And that she is, perhaps, using the sea to symbolise him...perhaps some sexual desire? It seems to me a sensual poem, even if there's some of her usual, charcateristic, playful imagery (Mouse!).
    Words speak volumes compared to the silence of the sword

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    1

    Cool "I started early"

    Can't go along with the dog star idea, although it's cleverly worked out. Seems a bit labored, and the tide's reversal of direction, the absolute key to the poem, doesn't really happen in the sky. I also disagree with Scube's single-level reading, because all great poems are reverberant and multi-layered; a well chosen image resonates with the other images in the poem, and this very resonance evokes similar relationships in the mind of the reader, whether or not the poet thought of them consciously. The disparate parts were chosen, after all, by a mind alive to connections of all kinds. To illustrate: the sea and its visitor(s) present to the reader a fantastic discrepancy of power, and power has many modes of assertion. In this poem a sort of stealthy advance of the tidal sea forces the subject to retreat if she wishes to save herself. She comes at last to the safety of the "Solid Town", where human structure prevails, for the time. Analogies present themselves immediately: the advance of sexual attraction, moving through the body as the sea moves up through the clothing, stoped at last by one part of the brain, where thought and propriety try to resist biological impulse; or, as in Frost's "Stopping by Woods...", death itself slowly advances in the human mind as age continues, presenting on occasion its own promise of escape from life's stresses, but other promises are there to be kept, and again a wave recedes. Similarly, the appearance of Emily's "Solid Town" with its little bustling concerns marks the turning point in this poem, as the narrator escapes the lure of the infinite. The final "Mighty look" from the sea toward the fleeing poet simply underscores the pathos of the human condition: we just can't win -- see what we're up against. The poem could also hint at Emily's critical stance toward the God presented to her by the church of her time, a God who flaunts his power and dispenses death with dispassion through the agency of frost ("The Blond Assassin passes on...").

  14. #14
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Posts
    8,564
    Quote Originally Posted by thatchmo
    Can't go along with the dog star idea, although it's cleverly worked out. Seems a bit labored, and the tide's reversal of direction, the absolute key to the poem, doesn't really happen in the sky. I also disagree with Scube's single-level reading, because all great poems are reverberant and multi-layered; a well chosen image resonates with the other images in the poem, and this very resonance evokes similar relationships in the mind of the reader, whether or not the poet thought of them consciously. The disparate parts were chosen, after all, by a mind alive to connections of all kinds. To illustrate: the sea and its visitor(s) present to the reader a fantastic discrepancy of power, and power has many modes of assertion. In this poem a sort of stealthy advance of the tidal sea forces the subject to retreat if she wishes to save herself. She comes at last to the safety of the "Solid Town", where human structure prevails, for the time. Analogies present themselves immediately: the advance of sexual attraction, moving through the body as the sea moves up through the clothing, stoped at last by one part of the brain, where thought and propriety try to resist biological impulse; or, as in Frost's "Stopping by Woods...", death itself slowly advances in the human mind as age continues, presenting on occasion its own promise of escape from life's stresses, but other promises are there to be kept, and again a wave recedes. Similarly, the appearance of Emily's "Solid Town" with its little bustling concerns marks the turning point in this poem, as the narrator escapes the lure of the infinite. The final "Mighty look" from the sea toward the fleeing poet simply underscores the pathos of the human condition: we just can't win -- see what we're up against. The poem could also hint at Emily's critical stance toward the God presented to her by the church of her time, a God who flaunts his power and dispenses death with dispassion through the agency of frost ("The Blond Assassin passes on...").
    Wow, quite a diversity of interpretations you have offered, thatchmo - I don't think I have encountered many forumers who offer multiple opinions one poem, but Dickinson seemed certainly one of the queens of writing such abstract poetry! I definitely agree when you said that the "Might look" from the sea hints at the vulnerability, weaknesses, and inabilities of the human condition - its mood, just now, almost reminds me of the "waxing and waning" theme in Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," but it seems like a bit of a far stretch.
    Dickinson did very well, in several of her poems, about maintaining this theme of the inevitable deficiencies of humankind, and she keeps somewhat of an external "locus of control", too. Regardless, I have encountered very little aggressiveness towards this weakness, like Romanticists or Victorians would have done, but she keeps much of a passive, aloof, que sera, sera attitude - excuse my sarcasm, but I only state my opinion.
    I agree, the astronomy interpretation seems a bit of a long stretch, but Dickinson's poetry can seem about as rubber-like as post-modern abstract art, and, looking back at my interpretation from some time ago, it compares little to no resemblance to any of the persistently unrelated interpretations others have made, too. Ah, Emily Dickinson - how her poetry moves me to no end!
    Thanks for sharing, thatchmo, and welcome to the forum.

  15. #15
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Australia
    Posts
    1,603
    Quote Originally Posted by Scube View Post
    it’s just playful and fun, like many others of hers.
    While I like your straightforward interpretation of the first three verses, you scarcely do justice to the passion of the last three. Here's my paraphrase of the poem.

    As a self confident woman, life (the vast ocean) is full of innocent sparkle and promise (mermaids). Of course, I've come to accept that I am but a mouse grounded on the shore (the shifting sands) of a vast universe.

    Nevertheless, life (the sea) encroaches and, in a sense, consume me. Defensively, I withdraw although the incoming tide of life, with death its inevitable end, continues to flow around me (a Dandelion’s Sleeve) in shimmering coils.

    I retreat until we reach civilisation (solid town), where one can almost feels safe. Here, life (and the infinite) is seen as something of a stranger, out of place, and I can with others, ignore life's demands, at least momentarily.

    And so the ocean of life withdraws. But it's not that simple: life with its (mighty and condescending) infinity first looks directly at me!

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Literary Analysis & the Early Church
    By Sitaram in forum Religious Texts
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: 06-12-2006, 07:35 AM
  2. Just started
    By Kaya in forum Introductions
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 10-13-2005, 08:59 PM
  3. Started reading Othello...
    By Kat_Orr in forum General Literature
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: 09-18-2005, 04:59 PM
  4. written in early spring by william, please help
    By indian123 in forum Poems, Poets, and Poetry
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 08-18-2003, 02:55 AM

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •