Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Hour is a Sea

An Hour is a Sea
Between a few, and me--
With them would Harbor be--
(F 898)

Emily Dickinson never fails in her ability to capture in a few words, even in about a sentence and a half or three small lines-- to capture an experience. It's not quite a miniature experience, because the full impact of emotion lies in these lines, rich and overwhelming. Her compression of language is superb, and I feel like I'm gushing as I write this, but her poetry is so rich in expression.

This speaker is full of longing and fear, isolation and maybe even a tinge of depression, yet there is an underlying hope. This "hour of sea" may seem unending. One could liken it to the experience of Santiago in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, when the giant fish has dragged Santiago out into the waves, much farther than he ever expected. There is no land in sight, only the swell of waves and the stars as a guide at night. In ways, the speaker in this poem seems to use the hope of the friends as a map to guide into the harbor, much as Santiago used the starts to navigate until he could see the lights of Havannah.

The moment of safety is not played out in the poem, however. And this lack of a real conclusion casts a little shadow of uncertainty upon the poem. The speaker is aware the harbor exists, but whether he or she will make whatever effort is necessary to reach the harbor-- that is another matter that Dickinson does not answer. Will the persona fall short of the harbor and sink or die at sea? Will he or she even try to reach the harbor? The answer must come from the reader, and the reader's answer will reveal far more about himself or herself than it will reveal about the speaker or the poet.

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