Emily Dickinson, “My River runs to thee” (162)

My River runs to thee (162)
Emily Dickinson

My River runs to thee —
Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me?
My River wait reply —
Oh Sea — look graciously —
I’ll fetch thee Brooks
From spotted nooks —
Say — Sea — Take Me!


Why do we desire unity so much? The speaker identifies herself with a river (“welcome me,” “I’ll fetch thee Brooks,” “Take me”). At the same time, she opens and continues with “My river,” implying that she possesses something that runs and waits and she is not exactly herself a river. In either case, she wants to be welcomed by the “Blue Sea,” where many if not all rivers end.

In contrast to immediately being possessed, the plea of this poem unfolds a different way. It ends with “take me,” but it started with a milder question: “Wilt welcome me?” A “reply” is awaited, a gracious look is asked for, and an offering of sorts is proposed. The sea is blue, one, united; she will fetch brooks from spotted nooks. She will fetch a diversity of colors and places and bring them with her.

That last thought is why I wonder about our desire for unity. Those spotted nooks could be little recesses filled with the varied colors of leaves and dappled sunlight. Some might be more private, some more public. Each would have a different character, imply a different life or a different need, joy, or moment in life. And yet the speaker wants it all to literally wash away.

Is the speaker actually wishing her individuality gone? There are so many peculiarities in this poem I’m not sure how to continue. One thing that strikes me is that the brooks are united in her, but she still recognizes their diversity. Is the sea the same way? We can be lost in a mass of humanity; this happens more often than one would care to admit. Another thing that just makes me wonder: her river already runs to the sea. The plea and its progression hardly seem necessary. If her individuality, her comprehension of diversity, is at stake this is not something that can be changed. Unity will happen, regardless. Perhaps the problem of unity is this: possession and acceptance are distinct just as being loved and loving are. The sea speaks to unity simply. Therefore it gets a prayer from a devotee who only imagines herself a devotee. Her problem is prior to the problem of the river, which itself has the problem of being an individual or not.

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