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A little road not made of man,
Enabled of the eye,
Accessible to thill of bee,
Or cart of butterfly.
If town it have, beyond itself,
'T is that I cannot say;
I only sigh, — no vehicle
Bears me along that way.

What is the meaning of "enabled of the eye"? Just an observation, made as a comment, that a man has vision? I don't understand why this should be mentioned at all.

Could it mean that the road can be seen by a human being? In this case "enabled of the eye" would mean "visible by the naked eye", but the word "enabled" can hardly work thus.

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The difficult word here is “of”, which needs to be understood in the sense “by”:

of, prep. 14. Introducing the agent after a passive verb. The usual word for this is now by, which was prevalent by the 15th cent.; of was used alongside by until c1600. Of is subsequently found as a stylistic archaism in biblical, poetic, and literary use

Oxford English Dictionary.

So Dickinson means that the road is enabled by the eye: that is, the road is enabled to be seen by the eye (imagination) of the poet.

Other poems where Dickinson uses this archaic sense of “of” are ‘I cannot live with You’:

Like a Cup—
Discarded of the Housewife—

and ‘There is a Shame of Nobleness’:

A finer Shame of Ecstasy—
Convicted of Itself—

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In her 2009 doctoral disstertation, "An Insect View of its Plain": Nature and Insects in Thoreau, Dickinson, and Muir", Rosemary S. McTier makes the following claim about the meaning of the line:

In “A little road not made of man -” (J647/F758), Dickinson reveals that even though her observations of nature have allowed her, “Enabled of the Eye,” to perceive

A little Road - not made of Man - [poem quote continues]

My understanding of this is that McTier is saying that Dickinson herself is "enabled of the eye" i.e. has vision to see an otherwise invisible "road". As the following lines make clear this road is a breeze, being traversed by insects and so otherwise could not be seen except by virtue of the animals using it. Dickinson was fond of riddling poems and the "little road" as a zephyr feels like an extension of that inclination.

On a personal level, while this seems like a plausible explanation it does raise a further question because if that is the meaning, it's expressed in a very bizarre syntax. Using the adjective "Enabled" at the start of the line would gramatically be read as applying to the preceeding object - the "road", whereas McTier claims we are to understand it as applying to the poet herself. This is poetry, of course, and thus not always subjugated to the normal rules of grammer. And yet, riddling or not, it feels like a particularly vexatious choice which itself demands an explanation which I fear I cannot provide.

References:

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  • @GarethRees thanks for that - I wasn't aware of that archaic usage. Aug 4 at 8:54
  • @GarethRees - thank you! That makes it clearer. I recall that I've already come across this use of the "of" preposition before: ell.stackexchange.com/q/78256/2127 Aug 4 at 11:14

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