Tuesday, September 14, 2021

There is no frigate like a book...

Few poets have a story as interesting as that of the American Emily Dickinson. She was born in 1830 in the family mansion at Amherst, Massachusetts, and--though she lived a stretch in another home in between--died in the very same house at the age of 55. She traveled little, and in her later years was something of a recluse.

Yet she might say that, through her reading, correspondence, and foremost through her nearly 1,800 poems--many not discovered until after her death--she had traveled far. (One thinks of Thoreau's famous quip: "I have traveled a good deal in Concord...").

In this little poem, she tells how a person who reads books can travel to "Lands away... Without opress of Toll." She must have traveled far!

Read more about the "Belle of Amherst" in Lesson #08-103!

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
Without opress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul


Here's a paraphrase of the poem:

No ship can take us to far away lands like a book can,

and no horse can carry us like a page of poetry.

Even poor people can take such journeys without the burden of payment:

The vehicle that carries the human soul is cheap!

Some Words to Know (for English Language Learners):

  • coursers: a fast, strong horse, often used in battle
  • frigate: a type of warship; in Ms Dickinson's day it would have been propelled by sails
  • frugal: thrifty; not wasteful
  • opress (oppress): usually a verb, here it's a noun meaning "burden" or "difficulty"
  • prancing: jumping forward with the hind legs; looks a little like dancing
  • toll: a fare paid for using a road
  • traverse: the act of passing over something; usually a verb


Vocabulary Exercise

Place the correct word in each sentence. Answers are in the comments below.

  1. The pony looked charming as it went ----- down the road.
  2. The knights on ----- were easily able to defeat the army on foot.
  3. We made the ----- over the lake in about five hours.
  4. Students often dislike the ----- of too much homework.
  5. If a person is -----, she can usually live quite comfortably.
  6. My great-grandfather was captain of a ----- in the Civil War.
  7. We prefer to take backroads and avoid paying a ----- on the highway.

Questions for Writing or Discussion

  1. Can you think of a book that took you "Lands away"? What was it called? What was it about?
  2. Have you ever been affected by a poem? Write or talk about it.
  3. Why do you think Ms Dickinson mentions "the human soul"? What does that have to do with reading?

Creative Projects

  1. Imagine taking a journey that was inspired by a book, and write a postcard to a friend about it. How about a ride on the Hogwarts Express? Or a trip in a time machine?
  2. As with #1, draw or paint a scene from an imaginary journey inspired by a book. Maybe make it a postcard!
  3. Again, a book-inspired journey: Imagine meeting a stranger on a trip. Write a dialogue in which you discuss your reason for traveling, and your destination. Perform it and record it (audio or video).

Share your writing, artwork, or performance with me! And let me know if I can share it with others. Use the contact form at the bottom of the page, or post it as a comment here or on one of my social media accounts.


1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Vocabulary Exercise: 1. prancing; 2. coursers; 3. traverse; 4. oppress (or opress); 5. frugal; 6. frigate; 7. toll