The Sea-Wise Man

Emily Dickinson, at Home in Her ‘Full-Color Life’: A Tribute

In the spring of 2013, I visited Dickinson in her New Jersey home to record her in-home show to benefit the Woodhull Settlement House in Camden. The next day, she sent me a note saying she enjoyed the visit, but that “I have been in poor health, as you know, since my visit from June 12 to July 14. I have been reading the poets I most love.” But that wasn’t true. She had been working too hard to let me see it.

When I visited that spring, she was feeling particularly weak. So weak that she didn’t get out of bed to greet me. Her husband would make an excuse and whisk her off to the kitchen.

“I feel as if I’ve had two strokes,” she wrote.

What had happened?

After visiting the settlement house, she and I became close friends. She called me when her health got worse, telling me about the poetry she was reading and how she was having trouble sleeping.

Her poem, “The Old Man and the Sea” was the last thing she wrote to me.

“He is not dead,” she wrote in her poem. “But he will go no more out to sea.”

She was dying, but she still wanted to write.

“The sea is old and wise, like the Old Man of the Sea.”

And so, I asked Dickinson what she wanted me to hear in her poem.

She answered with “The Sea-Wise Man,” which she had written in 1871, but didn’t send it to me. And she hadn’t wanted me to think that her life continued without me. That would be a mistake.

Dickinson’s words struck me. We often think our lives have ended when we are gone, but they start afresh inside ourselves as we prepare to continue.

“You see me now,” she wrote in her poem. “As

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