I started Early

Today’s poem is by Emily Dickinson, and the first line makes me smile because I have a friend whose last name is Early, and who is familiar with all sorts of good puns on her name. This poem is not pun-able, but I smile to think of my friend anyway.

When I was young, I didn’t enjoy Dickinson’s poems. Because they were often short, I assumed they were straight-forward. I couldn’t understand why they were poetry. While I warmed to her poetry over the years, it wasn’t until grad school that I became aware of the depth of her work. I regret the time I lost not enjoying them, though I’m still not confident about interpreting her work. She’s a tricky one, this Miss Dickinson, and hides as much as she reveals. I love the subtle (subtle?) sexual tension in this poem, and the pull between life (sex) and death.

There are two wonderful things about this wonderful poem that I wanted to share with you today, and both of them come from Poetry Foundation. First, are you aware of this wonderful series of poetry videos? All of them are short. Some have the poet reading his or her own work. Some are animated, playing with the relationship between text and space even more than poetry usually does. All of them are fabulous. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Second, Poetry Foundation offers an online poetry learning lab for teachers or for people who want to know more about poetry. This part of their website connects a selection of really wonderful poems with critical essays, discussion questions, writing prompts, a glossary and other learning resources. I wish I’d known about this when I was teaching. Maybe it will be useful to you?

Today’s poem has been featured both in Poetry Foundation’s “Poetry Everywhere” video series as well as its learning lab. I hope you’ll take them time to enjoy the poem here and then take a gander at the resources provided for you there. People think poetry is way harder than it is (not that it isn’t work, just that it’s not incomprehensible). I’m a fan of anything that makes poetry less scary.

Video- I started Early- Emily Dickinson (For some reason, I can’t post the actual video here. You’ll have to click on the link to view it. So sorry! Since it’s not my video, that’s probably for the best, though.)

Learning Lab for this poem

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

I started Early
by Emily Dickinson

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 — opon 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 Boddice — too —

And made as He would eat me up —
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion’s Sleeve —
And then — I started — too —

And He — He followed — close behind —
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle — Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —

Until We met the Solid Town —
No One He seemed to know —
And bowing — with a Might look —
At me — The Sea withdrew —


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