I started early, took my dog, And visited the sea; The mermaid 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 man he seemed to know; And bowing with a mighty look At me, the sea withdrew. (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
Sometimes I have a hard time understanding Emily Dickinson’s poems. For me, many of them seem to be a smattering of words and rhymes without much meaning. I’m sure if I tried to analyze them deeply, I could figure it out, but I tend to be lazy when reading poetry. If the meaning seems unclear, I pass by and find one that is clearer.
However, with this poem, I can see the picture clearly. Can you see it? A lady on a walk by the shore. She looks out, imagining mermaids and ships. Then the waves crash in. They overtake her, covering her shoes, making their way up her skirts all the way to her belt, threatening to overtake her and drag her back with them to the deep. Then, they stop. As though with a bow, the waves recede back to the depths without the lady. This is truly a beautiful picture painted by Emily Dickinson.