Emily Dickinson, “An Hour is a Sea” (825)

An Hour is a Sea (825)
Emily Dickinson

An Hour is a Sea
Between a few, and me –
With them would Harbor be –


Looks like this poem concluded a letter thanking someone for treating her kindly. Not sure.

It seems to me that the good of “few” and the associated “Harbor” are ambiguous. The Sea is dangerous, but it isn’t the worst thing to journey alone. We can point at Odysseus’ rootlessness and homelessness, but all that does is reinforce the sea as a metaphor for mind itself. He is where he belongs to a degree. Anything truly thought isn’t easy to communicate, if it is communicable. Discovery can be a lonely, dangerous enterprise.

One might object that the Sea is formless and chaotic. That “few” alludes to the fact that a lot of our knowledge does depend on language, if not communication. How can I blindly assert that the Sea stands in for mind? Can’t I say the same thing about the Harbor?

Not really. The Sea has depth. Out of formlessness arises form. Perhaps the decisive blow to situating a quest for knowledge at the Harbor is the lack of danger. How can anyone know anything through complacency?

Dickinson does not reject others as being of no value. Her time alone has some direction. She will find others and reach harbor: it’s important, at the least, for continuing the quest. Her use of “would be” in the third line reinforces her consciousness of her time and her freedom.

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