‘A soft Sea washed around the House’ (1198)

Emily Dickinson in her own words

Colin Gee

‘Get up on the couch, Susan,’ I cried, already up there myself. ‘A soft Sea is washing around the house!’

Emitting one of her characteristic little squeals, Susan leapt upon the divan opposite my own and grabbed an ornamental paddle from the wall.

‘Jump across to me, love,’ I shouted. ‘You can still make it!’

‘But there are sharks in these waters, circling my little raft,’ wept poor old Susan — for if sharks were going to circle anyone’s little raft, it would be Susan’s.

‘You can make it,’ I estimated, staring into the aquamarine blue waters. ‘I know you can!’

‘Why is there a Sea washing around our house?’ wept Susan, uncomprehending — a babe in these seas. ‘We are miles from the seaside!’

We are miles from dry land, I did not retort. Nor did I say, It’s the end of the world, God has gone back on His promise never again to destroy mankind with a deluge, the big fat liar.

I said, ‘You wouldn’t understand. There is no time to explain. Jump! Jump, before the tide warps us forever apart!’

Susan wavered — then jumped across the carpet. It was a lovely, flying leap, but she landed right in the drink.

‘Ka-splash!’ I screamed, in fascination and horror. Susan was now completely surrounded by slashing dorsal fins and the churning, unfathomably deep mid-Pacific.

‘Augh! Augh! Augh!’ screamed Susan, thrashing in the water — a rather indifferent swimmer. ‘They’ve got my leg! They’ve got my leg!’

‘They do not have your leg, be calm, girl, and swim the three yards to my raft so I can throw you a line and pull you out,’ I did not say, because the sharks already had Susan’s leg and were gnawing it off. For if sharks were going to have anyone’s leg, it would be Susan’s.

‘Hit them with your ornamental paddle!’ I cried, gesticulating, rushing from one side of the couch to the other in my black shoes, biting my fingers.

Susan’s blood blossomed in the water. She was stretched full out on the carpet, reaching out for me.

‘Help me,’ she cried. ‘E-mi-leeeeeee!’

I had no choice — I dove in, swam three strokes to her side, got one arm under her lumpy chest, and pulled her back to the sky blue upholstered three-seater, all while beating off a dozen hungry tiger sharks with my paddle, a Sea of Summer Air.

‘Thank you, Emily. You saved my life.’

Let’s put a tourniquet on that stump or no one is saving anyone, I did not demur, staring at the grisly spectacle of what was left of Susan’s leg.

I said, ‘Do not despair, fair Sue,’ I crooned, stroking her shivering chins, ‘for indeed the couches are not our raft.’

‘You mean-’ she began.

‘Yes,’ I confirmed. ‘I have changed my mind. The entire house is our raft — our ship!’ I cried, we cried in delight.

‘The house is our craft,’ we celebrated, throwing open the porch door and striding the porch — our poop. We gazed upon a sea of bumblebees and butterflies, and all the world was our crew.

A soft Sea washed around the House’ (1198)

Emily Dickinson

A soft Sea washed around the House

A Sea of Summer Air

And rose and fell the magic Planks

That sailed without a care —

For Captain was the Butterfly

For Helmsman was the Bee

And an entire universe

For the delighted crew.