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 sand

But no man moved me till the tide
went past my simple shoe
and past my apron and my belt
and past my boddice 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 man he seemed to know
and bowing with a mighty look
at me the sea withdrew


HWL's Comment

Date of writing: Apr 09, 1980

Comment: Since some of the symbolism is new in this poem, I shall be explicit:

dog, being an animal faithful in following her footsteps, and since vaginal fondling is symbolized in other poems as a walk, the conjecture comes naturally that dog is glans.

Sea retains its usual meaning of the semen flood or emission, but we make note that it could well symbolize female effluence in the vestibule during lesbian enjoyment.

The mermaids in the basement identify with semen in the testicles; their rise through the urethra signifies their coming out “to look at me.”

Frigates in the upper floor are the semen quanta ejaculated through glans lip.

The hempen hands bring in the Webster hum that hovers about the term spider. Since there are several variations in this particular symbol hum, I specify that here the metal ring around a ship’s mast is meant, to which the ropes are tied that hold and guide the sails that flutter from the mast above—clearly a penis in ejaculation symbol.

Lines 7-8 make clear that vaginal cup has reached the glans rim and is now helped by the emission to effect the slip-on.

The mouse aground upon the sand is vaginal cup stranding on the semen, what she conceives to be the vast expanse of the glans engrossment. Lines 9-16 describe the union in mutual climax in process of being effected, with female orgasmic arousal being somewhat slow in getting its momentum.

Apron, belt, and boddice may be taken as filler symbols to graphically demonstrate the flooding effect of vaginal cup.

Lines 13-16 hold one of the cleverest sense encapsulations in the whole body of Dickinson’s poems:

dandelion is penis symbol, a tube from which a “flower shouts.”

Its sleeve is the contraceptive, and the dew on it the female effluence in orgasmic arousal.

The final eight lines describe the completion of the mutual climax and penis withdrawal from vagina.

Although the poem’s symbolism is plainly heterosexual, the poem itself can also pass for the description of a lesbian mutual appeasement, since in the solid town, the absolutely tight contact, peak excitation and release is likewise equally achieved and totally mutual. This makes either of the two requitements exchangeable in their symbolic meanings, a fact that must be kept in mind over and over again in the analysis of her poems. For this reason, and for the added one that the poem is in packet 5, I hold this to be a double-double hybrid. But it is a workshop product, elaborated especially with eventual publication in mind; thus the outer meanings get preferential treatment. Actually, the poem has since become one of her most popular, best remembered ones.