Notes and commentary on Emily Dickinson's poetry

There is no Frigate like a Book


frigate: a fast naval ship
courser: a swift horse, a charger
traverse: the act of passing across, over, or through
oppress: cruel or unjust burden (Dickinson takes the verb and positions it as a noun)
frugal: economical, prudent, thrifty
chariot: a light vehicle, usually two-wheeled and drawn by two horses, meant for one person

Commentary: The poem uses three related metaphors to describe how a book can take the imagination on voyages of discovery. She begins with the simile of book as frigate and quickly follows with a second simile of the page of poetry as prancing coursers. Rhetorically, the poem splits in halves of four lines. The first half conveying the idea that books can take you away to someplace you have never travelled before. The second half of the poem makes a point about the expense involved in this sort of travelling. The irony is that this swift means of travelling great virtual distances doesn't cost much at all. Even the poorest can take the journey without being burdened. The third metaphor appears in line seven, with the book reappearing now as a frugal chariot bearing a human soul. Note that a chariot holds one traveller. The book is a vehicle for individual exploration.

Formal properties: the poem's meter alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The second and fourth lines rhyme, giving us a rhyme scheme of abcb.dfgf. Actually lines two and four are near rhymes "away" and "poetry". And we have assonance in the line endings "away" (2) "page" (3) and "take" (5), which helps to stitch the two halves of the poem. Lines 1 and 5 begin with "Th" words: "There" and "This", and we also notice the consonance between "frigate" (1) and "frugal" (7). Alliteration appears in second simile "page / of prancing poetry" (3/4), followed by "poorest" in line 5.