|The Shipwreck on Northern Sea
Ivan Aivazovsky (1865)
Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.
Part One: Life
GLEE! the great storm is over!
Four have recovered the land;
Forty gone down together
Into the boiling sand.
Ring, for the scant salvation!
Toll, for the bonnie souls,—
Neighbor and friend and bridegroom,
Spinning upon the shoals!
How they will tell the shipwreck
When winter shakes the door,
Till the children ask, “But the forty?
Did they come back no more?”
Then a silence suffuses the story,
And a softness the teller’s eye;
And the children no further question,
And only the waves reply.
Shipwrecks were common in Dickinson's time, and in this poem she contrasts the joy that the storm is over and four people were saved with the sorrow that forty people lost their lives. Notice how Dickinson uses punctuation marks to emphasize feeling. The sombre tone in the final stanza is an appropriate response to the pointed question of the children. We seem to live in a society increasingly hungry for stories of other people's suffering, and often forget that individual lives are a part of those news headlines.
Thus, today's challenge is to write about what it means to be shipwrecked in our times, either literally or figuratively. You may choose your own point of view: are you a witness, a survivor, or one who will go down with the ship?