I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea--
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch--
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience--
The trouble with so many parts of life is that we can learn and learn, but the time come when we must step out into our own experience. Some people are bold and jump "plank to plank," while others take the "slow and cautious way," feeling out the path before them. It would be all well and good if the planks remained steady and sure and predictable. Life, however, is anything but steady and sure and predictable.
Dickinson's acute observations about the harrowing aspects of experience show her ability to tap into fears and distill them into a single poem. In eight lines she perfectly describes the uncertainty that we all face when we step into the unfamiliar-- whether the unfamiliar is going off on our own into world, being left to fully master a new skill, or even face the risk that is love. Every part of life requires risk. There is the chance the next step will not be there, that the persona will fall on his or her face. Trips and stumbles and free-falls happen. But life cannot happen without risk.
No matter how much Dickinson may have seemed to be isolated in her home in Amherst and distanced from the world, even she realizes that risk is necessary. That the "precarious Gait" is innate in the human experience called life. We stumble and fumble and trip along our way. And maybe someday we learn and risk enough to run.