There is no frigate like a book

        To take us lands away

Nor any coursers like a page

    Of prancing poetry:

                               This traverse may the poorest take 5

           Without oppress of toll;

                                              How frugal is the chariot

                That bears the human soul!


Emily Dickinson (1830-1888)

Emily Dickinson’s consummate skill and unparalleled ingenuity in playing with words and their connotations in her attempt to convey to the reader the power of a book are evident. Her poem is suffused with metaphors, as she is desirous of likening a book to various means of transportation. Casting an eye over the poem attests to her predilection for couching her message in metaphors. We can easily see direct allusions to concrete objects such as “frigate,” “coursers” and “chariot,” which carry archaic connotations. The difficulty inherent in the use of these vehicles has to do with the reader’s knowledge concerning the properties and characteristics evinced by a “frigate,” “coursers” and a “chariot.” Much of the force and dynamism of the metaphors cloaked in this kind of register derive from our ability to draw upon our knowledge, and thus to associate the swiftness of a “frigate,” “coursers” and a “chariot”—as well as their use to explore new lands and seas—with the power of a book or poetry to usher us into another dimension, perhaps shrouded in mystery but definitely rewarding. If the reader is not acquainted with these means of transportation that reigned supreme, so to speak, centuries ago, he / she is denied access to the meaning that the poet seeks to impart by means of these vehicles. 


But Emily Dickinson does not limit herself to these vehicles alone; the whole poem is reminiscent of a past era when people used “frigate[s],” “coursers” and “chariot[s]” to travel “lands away.” Consider the words “traverse,” “oppress,” and “frugal,” with which the poem is interspersed—all of them of latin origin, thus lending it a formal and pompous hue. There is no denying that the register she resorts to is inextricably related to the import of the metaphors and the poem as a whole. How would the poem sound if, instead of likening a book to a “frigate,” “coursers,” and a “chariot,” one resolved to use a “Mercedes Benz,” a “Lotus” or a “Porsche” to convey the same meaning, that of celerity and swiftness? Emily Dickinson’s shrewdness in selecting the most appropriate diction is superb and indubitably holds up a mirror for the reader to see what it is that she had in mind when writing the poem. 

On a more technical note, pertaining to the rhyme scheme, it is obvious that the poem is written in open form or in free verse (from the French vers libre), as indicated by the lack of a regular rhyme pattern, by analogy with “prancing poetry” or the power of a book to carry you to foreign “lands” where no man has ever trod before. Liberated from the confines and shackles of rhyme, Emily Dickinson’s “There is no frigate like a book” contrives to make an indelible impression on the reader, as it “entangles…a part of the Divine essence,” to quote W. B. Yeats.  


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