25.11.2020 in Education

Critical Analysis of the Poem By the Sea


Emily Dickinson lived in the rural area in New England. In those early days, the countryside of New England was a bit confined. She often observed the changing seasons in the countryside and this formed her opinion about nature. She believes that nature can be baffling, mysterious, and at time destructive. It is therefore not surprising that most of her works are characterized by natural scenes and figurative language. The poem by the sea clearly brings the aspects of nature as perceived by Emily. In fact, the destructive nature of the sea is what the author emphasizes in this poem. Emily Dickinsons poem By the Sea relies heavily on ballad and hymn forms. This is attributed to her Christian life which exposed her to hymns whenever she went to church. Because of her religious affiliation, the poem even though talking about everyday experience, carries a spiritual gravity characteristic of Christian hymns. The structure of the poem also follows the ballad form. The stanzas are composed of four lines each with strong rhythm, rhymes, and repetitions. The rhymes are particularly present in the second and the fourth lines of each stanza. When the poem is read aloud, the audience is capable of hearing and seeing how a song is created that tells a given story. The syllable structure and the rigid rhyme create a melody that is common in many other poems by Dickinson. This is one most compelling poems that depicts the poets encounter with nature. The themes highlighted in the poem include adventure, escape, and the depths of self.

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The poem begins by stating a journey to the seaside. The author says that I started too early- Took My Dog- And visited the sea. The opening lines symbolize a walk in the beach. The early-morning stroll is just any ordinary walk, and the author loves to walk with her dog. The author is known as loving to venture to the nature together with her dog, especially on the grounds of her house. However, she never went far to the sea. In the line two of stanza, she stated that she visited the sea. This implies that she had never gone to the sea. The speaker fails to tell us the exact nature of this visit to the sea. Nevertheless, the reader can insinuate that this was casual walk with her dog, and probably the dog acted as protection. The early-morning stroll was, a therefore, an adventurous time for her and her dog. One can also think she was filled with fear and therefore the dog acted as a companion as well as for security purpose. Later in the story, the poets only companion, the dog, disappears upon arrival at the sea. In the third line, the poet outlines that mermaids in the basement, come out to look at me which gives a picture of the sea as a house. In this case, she uses a metaphor to transform the scene into what is familiar to her, a house. Additionally, the third line and fourth brings somehow what seems to be the reaction of the sea to the presence of the poet. The mermaids are mythical half-woman and half-fish creatures. Being a woman, it appears that the speaker strongly identifies with these mythical creatures. These images cast the speaker as a creature of nature, diminished and that the speaker could also be not fully human.

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In the second stanza, the speaker continues with introduction of the creatures in the sea. She continues to describe these subhuman creatures and their reaction to her. From the first stanza, the speaker seems to be human; however, this stanza depicts a shift of the speakers nature into being subhuman. As a matter of fact, the presence of mermaid is pivotal in bringing out the transition. These half-human and half-fish beings and later the frigates presumes the speaker to be a mouse, illustrates that the speaker could have undergone some aspects of mutation. Presumably, the reader can conclude that as the speaker approached the sea, she lost the human identity and began a transitional cum degradation process, of inhuman transformation. The speaker also architecturalizes the sea by organizing it into units typical of a domestic house structure. It is amazing how various things in the poem undergo transformation. The speakers human identity erodes into being an animal. On the other hand, the sea and the creatures therein take on human characteristics. Both the mermaids (by the fact that they are half-human) and the mouse depicts the degraded human. What started as a casual walk along the sea has now turned into a horrific event where the speakers humanness is slowly slipping into subhuman, and this threatens her very own existence. Furthermore, the coming out of the mermaids to look at the speaker can also portray sexual connotations, being that the speaker was a woman. The mermaids arising from the basement could also mean the rise of a subordinate group. The vulnerability of the speaker based on her gender is also hinted when the frigates perceive her to be a mouse that could only be helped with hempen hands, even though the poem does not clearly show that the speaker was in any danger at this point.

The gaze of the mermaids and frigates brings out sexual dynamic that acts as introductory lines to stanza three. The frigates and mermaids see the speaker as an object for physical appropriation. The reaching out of the frigates with hempen hands depicts a potential physical bondage of masculinity. In this stanza, the rising of the water is stated in relation to the speakers body, and particularly the clothing; the apron, shoe, belt, and bodice. The rising of the waters tend to threaten the speaker. Each of the accessories demarcates a specific part of the speakers body. The reader is taken through step by step how the sea arises in relation to the specific parts of the speakers attire. The sea takes the characteristics of a man and becomes voracious and volatile, threatening the existence of the speaker. This stanza also portrays the vulnerability of the speaker. The reader can insinuate that the speaker is threatened because of her gender. The sexual overtures are clearly brought out in the description of the speakers clothing. Furthermore, the full description of how the sea arises in relation with her clothing simply brings the helplessness of the speaker in the hands of a man (metaphorically, the sea). The words used in this stanza could also symbolize that the speaker was drowning and that there was no one who could offer her any help. The poem uses the rhyme and repetition to depict that the speaker was not sure of the appropriate steps that would help in such a state. The word past is repeated three times in this stanza to emphasize the fact that the speaker is paralyzed and can only lament on how her body is overwhelmed by the waves. In this stanza, it is now the speaker that gazes upon her predicament. In the preceding stanza, it is the creatures that gaze at the speaker and sympathizing with her, which symbolizes seduction and violation of women in the society. The vulnerability of the speaker also shows how women can be helpless in the hands of chauvinistic society. The first three stanzas render the speaker as a victim of aggression

The next stanza shows the possibility of the sea engulfing the speaker. The speaker is imaged as dew which further reduces her to smallest being than as she had earlier been portrayed in the previous stanzas. The illustration of speaker being likened to dew depicts that the power of the surging waters as compared to the effect of dew. This also shows that how the speaker would be easily absorbed by forces of the sea. The first stanza metaphorically refers to the speaker as a mouse. In this stanza, the speaker is metaphorically referred to as dew. All this illustration demeans the speaker. The fourth line of this stanza echoes the very first two words at beginning of the poem, and then- I started- too. It tends to bring the speaker active again from the time she arrived at the sea. Just after arriving at the sea, the speaker seemed to have been overwhelmed with events that left her either imprisoned or restrained. The use of repetition of the word I started simply outlines the fact that the speaker had been threatened by the forces of the sea upon arrival and thus she could not do anything to free herself from all the amazement. This last line could also imply that the speaker was now waking up to happenings at the sea, and possible escaping from the dangers of the sea waves. It worth noting he first use of the word I started implied the beginning of adventurous walk to pleasant scene. The speaker seems fascinated at the initial stages of her visit to the sea. However, the last line of this stanza the speaker uses the words I started to connote retreat from the sea which is now perceived a threatening place or a horrendous place to stay in.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker personifies the sea by referring to it as a he. The opening lines of this stanza show the speaker as retreating from the sea and the sea continues with its pursuit of her. Even though she is determined to escape, the speaker expresses the fear and her vulnerability to the fact that the sea is still following closely behind her. Being that the speaker is a woman and the sea is metaphorically referred to as he, show the sexual attraction between the two. That the sea which initially acted aggressively towards the speaker is now transformed to a responsive partner who would pursue the speaker slowly. It is possible that the speakers sexual urges that had been awakened by the sea has now exceeded those of the sea. In this case, the sea is personified and given attributes of a male. Picking from the last line of the stanza, one can conclude that the state of arousal of the speaker and the sea are juxtaposed. While the speaker has started the sea has no option but to follow the leading of the speaker. The words close behind could also imply a close intimacy between the sea and the speaker. This stanza portrays the speakers dominance as compared to the previous stanzas where the speaker played a victim of circumstances. The previous stanzas portrayed the speaker as the object of gaze for the mermaids and the frigates. However, this stanza the speaker also limits the previously forceful and overwhelming power of the sea into phrases such as his heel. This stanza is also culmination of the sexual act that begun in the previous stanza, with ejaculation of the male and the flow of the emissions in the shoe of the speaker. This also could also mean the sexual fulfillment that the speaker seems to have achieved. Even though speaker seems amazed by the outcome of her consummation with the sea, she feels happy of the pearls flowing on her shoes.

In the last stanza, the speaker begins by outline her union with sea by using the word we. It also implies that sea continues his pursuit of the speaker and caught up with her and the two were now intertwined into realizing a mutual fulfillment. The sea does not leave her but continues in pursuit of her. The two get engulfed into a consummation and unites them for a while. The speakers dream of being subsumed by the sea is shuttered by the reality of a solid town that would force the sea to concede back to its ocean floor. The use of the word we signifies the temporal union between the sea and the speaker. However, the union is finally broken which leaves the speaker with a sense of loss. This stanza presents a different picture of the sea as was presented in the third and the fourth stanzas. The two stanzas portrayed the sea as a threat to the speaker was more than helpless at the sight of the sea. The sea seemed to engulf her with no one to help her. However, in stanza five and six, tables are turning and it is the speaker that seems to have taken charge. Furthermore, the last stanza now depicts the sea as submissive and has to retreat back. This last stanza could also connote moments after orgasm just after sexual intercourse. The male genital looses the strength and slowly droops. This is confirmed by the words that the speaker uses to describe the behavior of the sea. She says and bowing……….at me the sea with drew. The loss of power by the male genitals is symbolically represented by bowing. The final departure of the sea from the speaker suggests a completed sexual act.


At the beginning, the speaker seems fascinated by the idea of having a walk at the beach. The early-morning stroll is just any ordinary walk, and the author loves to walk with her dog. The author is known as loving to venture to the nature together with her dog, especially on the grounds of her house. One can also think she was filled with fear and therefore the dog acted as a companion as well as for security purpose. Later in the story, the poets only companion, the dog, disappears upon arrival at the sea. Her fears are confirmed in stanza three, where waves of sea started to engulf her. She seemed so helpless and dreaded for her life. She loses her human dignity as the frigates refer to her as a mouse. This goes further into stanza four after the sea had subsumed her. She describes herself as dew which implies that she was at the mercy of the sea. In last line of stanza four, the speaker begins her retreat journey from the sea. However, the sea does not leave her but continues in pursuit of her. The two get engulfed into a consummation and unites them for a while. However, the unity is short-lived as the sea retreats back to its flow.

By personifying the sea and its elements, Dickinson brings out one of the common assumptions in her culture that power was bestowed upon men, who could use it to oppress women in a bid to obtain their needs and finally retreat from them (women).

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