‘Twas such a little—little boat
That toddled down the bay!
‘Twas such a gallant—gallant sea
That beckoned it away!
‘Twas such a greedy, greedy wave
That licked it from the Coast—
Nor ever guessed the stately sails
My little craft was lost!
This little ditty by Emily Dickinson was one of my first imbibations of this delightful New England poet of 19th century America. The poem reveals the vulnerability of Dickinson which in turn gave her the perspective which allowed her to offer such a wry glimpse into the human enterprise, a glimpse that is so relevant to any generation.
Dickinson was herself a “little boat” on the “gallant sea” of life and her poetry reveals that she frequently feared she was going to be swept away by the current. And the second stanza vividly conveyed the fear that any of us have of getting “swept away,” the fear of being “lost” and having no awareness of it.
Consciousness is a perilous adventure and as Hamlet told us it does make “cowards of us all.” To be conscious is to realize, cognitively and emotionally, that we live our life strung out on a narrow precipice above an unabiding void. It is fear of this void, i.e. “Void,” that makes us “cling to these ills that we have, (rather) than fly to others that we know not of,” borrowing from Hamlet again. Dickinson spent her adult life on one of these narrow precipices, ensconced in the attic of her father’s house, where she explored the vast riches of her tender heart and shared her findings with posterity.