There is no Frigate like a Book by Emily Dickinson

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 oppress of toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul —


How does the iPad alter the vehicle of the opening metaphor in this poem for you?  A book is a ship, an iPad is a spaceship?  The “Courser” is likely a horse, and not a hunting dog that prances.  It’s pretty easy to see how she (or She) moves from books carrying us to foreign places to a page transporting us like a fine horse, but the next movement has to do with the availability and economy of the medium of the book paralleling the frugality of the Chariot that carries the soul.  But an iPad (iPhone, laptop, tower and the rest) is not frugal, especially once you start calculating in the wifi access (“without oppress of toll, indeed”!).  It’s also worth wondering if books were reliable allies in Dickinson’s reclusive life, were they at all causal?  It’s certainly easy to imagine that many who are otherwise mobile might turn to all the screened devices as substitutes for other traverse, rather than as supplements.  But who hasn’t wondered about this already?

We still have books, however, and praise be for that, but I want to suggest that some bold person or two should write a new poem in the mode of “no Frigate” for our era, brief as this one will be ere a new era comes zipping in.


recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.