There is No Frigate like a Book by emily dickinson cover image

There is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson: Complete Analysis

Humans are storytellers. We tend to expound our experiences, our ideas, our thinking, and so much more to people. Right from the moment we learned how to speak till today, storytelling has been a human quality since the birth of humanity. But perhaps the biggest and most impactful invention that has led humans to where we are today are books. 

Moving from verbal storytelling, written stories were much better in surviving the test of time and reaching a bigger audience. The poem “There is No Frigate Like a Book” by Emily Dickinson is about the power a book can give you. It is about how useful and liberating a simple book can be. 

In this article, we’ll look at the meaning, summary, line-by-line analysis, and all the literary devices used in the poem. Let’s get started. 

There is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickison

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 a Human soul.

Meaning and Summary

Emily Dickinson has always been an appreciator of literature and recognized the power of books. Being an introverted person who spent most of her life in her parent’s home with only a few friends, the best of which was her pen and paper, “There is No Frigate Like a Book” talks about how powerful a book can be in giving people a journey that is not bound to any physical limitations. 

Books do not discriminate between the rich or the poor, the abled or the disabled, nor does it consider class, hierarchy, or societal limitations. A book will take you on a journey, and this journey is not physical, but a metaphorical journey. It can take your imagination to new places, introduce you to new concepts, and ideas, and even ignite a passion in your heart. 

Dickinson concludes the poem beautifully by calling books the “Chariot of the Human Soul”, which is true in all senses. A book is written by another person, who puts their souls into it, their experiences, their story. This is the reason why you feel a connection with a book. You get to experience what the author of the book experienced. You get to see a world the author has seen. And that is what makes books so powerful. 

Analysis of the Poem

Let’s take a look at the line-by-line analysis of the poem to get a better understanding of what Emily Dickinson was trying to convey. 

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away,

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry – 

It is very important to understand the subtleties of the first stanza where Dickinson uses words like Frigate and Courses because these are not just random words, but they are metaphors to describe the power of books. For example, this sort of war imagery indicates how impactful books can be. 

A frigate is a warship, fast and strong, capable of taking many people at once. But if you think about it, books that can be read by thousands of people can also do the same thing. It can train people, make them know about the struggles of their country, show them new places, and so much more. Why doesn’t Dickinson use terms like “ship” or a “horse” but uses terms used in war?

We’ll look into it in detail in the later part of the article. For now, the first stanza is all about expressing the power of a book, and how it can take so many people, all at once, to distant places without even leaving their houses. 

A “Page of prancing Poetry” is a beautiful sentence in itself. Like a swift and powerful horse, a single page of poetry can take you places, and give your imagination a steed to run wild in the open. A prancing horse is a symbol of strength and vigor and that is what Dickinson uses to describe a single page of poetry. Imagine how powerful a book of poetry can be. How many emotions poetry can stir in the hearts of the readers?

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears a Human soul.

Now we come to the second stanza which tells us about the accessibility of this brilliant chariot. Traveling is still expensive today, let alone in the eighteenth century. But books are a way of traveling that even the poorest can take without the oppression of the toll. They do not need to pay excessive money on tickets and other things to travel. All they need is a book, and that’s all. 

She calls books the “Chariot that bears a Human soul” and it is very easy to own. This part is very important because now she clarifies the kind of journey a book takes you to. It is not just about reaching places in the world metaphorically, but also reaching different people, looking into their souls, and learning about them, a journey that is not bound by its accepted definition. A powerful journey anyone can take, that’s what a book is. 

There is no frigate like a book poem

The War Imagery in the Poem

Coming back to the imagery used in the poem, why did Dickinson choose two crucial words to relate to warfare? She uses the word “Frigate” instead of “ship” and “Coursers” instead of “horse”. Courses are usually trained horses that are swift and strong, used in wars. We think there was a reason for the use of such terms.

Let’s go back to when this poem was written. It was written in a letter to one of Dickinson’s friends in 1873. It was during this year when America faced the Panic of 1873, unnecessary spending on railroads and other infrastructure for another war. The Civil War had ended a few years ago but people believed another war was imminent. 

The Panic of 1873 brought a lot of economical issues, poverty, degradation in lifestyle, and shortage of basic raw materials all across the country. Perhaps this is something that affected Dickinson. Perhaps this poem was a sneer at the current situation on how people spend so much on war to achieve things yet do not see how powerful cheap books can be. This poem could very well be a metaphor for how knowledge is more powerful than brute, destructive strength.

Literary Devices in the Poem

As with all the poems by Emily Dickinson, “There is No Frigate Like a Book” has a lot of literary devices, mostly metaphors. The entire poem is a metaphor if you look at it. Let’s look at all the literary devices used in the poem. 

Metaphors: Books being compared to a frigate, and a page of poetry referred to as a “courser” are some examples of metaphors in the first stanza. “Prancing Poetry” is yet another metaphorical way of saying how strong poetry can be for the soul. 

Coming to the second paragraph, “traverse” here is a metaphor for the journey one takes while reading a book. The second line has the term (oppress of toll) which refers to the barrier to affordability. The final words of the poem have perhaps the most important metaphor; Chariot of Human Soul which refers to the book that is a window to the author’s soul. It also holds the human soul and takes it on a journey.

Alliteration: The examples of alliteration include :

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –  

Personification: In the last line of the first stanza, Dickinson says “prancing poetry”. Here, a page of poetry has been personified. 

Enjambment: All the lines of the poem contain enjambment, where the readers have to move to the next line to complete it. 

Rhyming Scheme: There is No Frigate Like a Book has a rhyming scheme of ABBC BDED. It should be noted that the rhyme here is not direct, but slant. Slant rhyme is when the rhyming words are not exactly rhyming but sound very similar. Examples here would be “Away” and “Page”.

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