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

An Hour is a Sea, I say to myself, wondering why today has looked like the same sheet of rain each hour I’ve been awake. But I also wonder why between the time I sang the Ninja Turtles theme loudly and my most recent oil change I blinked maybe a total of three times. The declaration “An Hour is a Sea” could either describe life as interminable repetition, or life as far too short. What might be Dickinson’s intent with these few lines?

"An Hour is a Sea" (825)
Emily Dickinson

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

For a moment, Dickinson indulges this thought: you can’t really keep track of time—i.e. your life—alone. An Hour is a Sea / Between a few, and me / With them would Harbor be can be paraphrased thus: I feel endlessly lost without your company. This poem, to be sure, sits at the end of one of her letters. It works as a gorgeous, powerful way of saying “I hope to see you again.” It credits those she wants to see again with being a destination, safety (h/t practisingsands).

Then again, most of us for good reason treat Emily Dickinson as intensely private. Six years’ worth of poems, tied up in bundles, in a box under her bed. I don’t think she’s insincere in her hope for affectionate, appreciative company. However, this depends upon her journey, her hours upon the sea. That journey, the search for a harbor, seems to depend on the labor of understanding what truly constitutes “a few, and me,” as how a writer actually spends her hours can’t be neglected in the case of a poem with an audience so specific. Only with “a few,” and strangely enough “between a few,” can one bring “me” into relief.

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