When Emily goes for a walk to the sea, this is no simple day at the beach.
#520, c. 1862
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 —
First the mermaids emerge from her basement, these otherworldly, non-human creatures that live in her subconscious. Just looking. They have nothing to say. Neutral, silent, fantastical bottom-dwellers down there in the basement of her soul, come to the surface occasionally just to freak her out. Able swimmers, who may live either in air or water. Both fish and woman. Travelers between the realms. Translators between the species.
Then the sailboats in her attic. The wind-driven vessels of her upper mind. Dreams made of vapors, thoughts, ideas. These try to save her from her watery fate. Emily’s sharp and airy mind may want to make sense of the vast emotions that engulf her from time to time, but she doesn’t accept this help. Emily wants to drown.
So instead, she returns to her old lover, the sea who takes a slow inventory of her person from shoe to bodice. She is nearly overtaken and then . . . she reaches safety, solid ground. My goodness, we almost lost you there, Em. What would have happened to you? Something more than love, but less than what you thought? We’ll find out eventually because that “mighty look” is a promise. The sea will return. It always does. The tide comes in, goes out, and comes in again. On that we can rely.
I notice she has the influences arranged so that no man moved her until this tide came over her. She contains this ocean. These tides are her own. She properly identifies the source of this vast oceanic feeling as commencing within her rather than giving credit to someone else for “making” her feel this way. Or at least she knows she’s having a private relationship with an archetype first, not a man out there. Whatever it is that happens for her out there among humans, originates with her own nature. Smart girl, Emily.
Now here is the part I cherish the most in this poem. Her dog accompanies her on this foray into the oceanic chaos of feeling. Why? He is the guide or the touchstone, perhaps? That sturdy, warm, fur-covered fellow traveler, who doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t demand anything. Accepts her completely, no matter what. Doesn’t care if she is good or smart or successful or pretty. Still her dog wants her and loves her. Hmm . . . how like a deity is Emily’s dog. Therefore, he is the perfect companion to take with her on this borderline dangerous engagement with the unknown realm of emotional tumult. With her dog as her co-pilot, Emily can go anywhere. His wordless presence beside her is all the proof she needs that she exists in a meaningful way, and that her life matters to someone. Her dog is the anchor that keeps her steady in knowing her life is worth saving, keeping and living. Emily is never lost in the chaos of being human as long as her dog stands with her.