‘There is no Frigate like a Book’ is the title poem of a short book of poems that Dickinson published with young children in mind. The poems are illustrated with images that connect to the three poems in the volume. The other two poems are titled: ‘He ate and drank the precious words’ and ‘A Drop fell on the Apple Tree’.
The light-hearted tone of this charming piece of poetry engages the reader on themes of escape, adventure, and reading. She addresses the ease with which all people can find and explore books by using a metaphor that compares reading, favorably, to traveling. She uses several comparisons that argue that books are better modes of transportation, cheaper and farther reaching than any real road could be.
‘There is no Frigate like a Book’ by Emily Dickinson is an eight-line poem that separated out into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. This particular poem, as are many of Dickinson’s poems, is written in ballad stanzas. These stanzas are reminiscent of church hymns. They follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB and use iambic tetrameter. Iambic tetrameter refers to the number of syllables, or beats, per line and where the stresses fall. One metrical foot, or set of two beats, in this poem, is made up of one unstressed and one stressed beat. There are a total of four “feet” per line.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘There is no Frigate like a Book’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and metaphor. The latter is the most important by far. Within the poem, Dickinson creates several metaphors that help a reader connect the world of reading to that of traveling. Dickinson argues that traveling through literature is far more affordable, fun, and exciting than traveling on the road.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Page” and “Poetry” in lines three and four of the first quatrain and “Traverse” and “take” in line one of the second stanza. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as three and four of the first quatrain.
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
In the first line of ‘There is no Frigate like a Book,’ the speaker begins with the line that came to be used as the title of the poem. This was the case with most of Dickinson’s poems. She left the majority of them untitled and most are known by their first like and/or a number. The line compares a “Frigate,” or a large ship to a “Book”.
A reader can intuit from just this first line what the speaker believes about the power of Books. They can, like large ships, take one to new places. They allow a reader to escape their normal, mundane world and visit new ones. It is also important to note that the speaker says that there is “no Frigate like a Book”. This means that she sees Books as being far superior to all ships. They are even better at letting one escape their day to day life than a ship.
A similar comparison is crafted in the third and fourth lines. Here, the speaker compares a Book to a “courser” or a horse. This kind of horse is high energy, ready, and able to run. It can physically take one new location but “a Page” is even better at this task. It is revealed in the fourth line that the speaker is interested in Books of poetry rather than novels or works of non-fiction. She uses personification to describe the pages of a Book of poetry as “prancing”. This connects back to the image of the horse in like three.
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
In the second stanza of ‘There is no Frigate like a Book,’ the speaker uses a metaphor that places reading above “Travers[ing]” or traveling. It is accessible even to the “poorest”. One can find and read Books without paying a “Toll” such as that one would find along the road.
The affordability of reading, as a reason to love it, is continued in the third line of this stanza. The speaker says, through an additional metaphor, that it is “frugal” or cheap to take a ride through literature. Books are the “Chariot” that “bears the Human soul”. This metaphor has possible mythological and religious allusions. Dickinson might be considering the path of the human soul from birth to death and/or the ride that one takes away from their everyday life into the unknown.