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The following lines appear in the Emily Dickinson's poem " A Bird, came down the Walk":

And rowed him softer Home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam.

What does the phrase "too silver for a seam" suggest? (I find it quite complicated to interpret.)

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Essentially, Dickinson is comparing the bird's smooth flight to rowing in the ocean, saying that its strokes of the oars (which symbolize the bird's wings) that "divide the ocean" would be too delicate and "too silver for a seam," or a fissure, to be visible.

The poem's final lines (19-20) make this comparison clearer. In the preceding lines, 16-18, she translates both the movement (flapping → rowing) and the environment (sky → sea) into what's ultimately a straightforward marine metaphor. In the next lines, it's a bit different.

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim.

She casts the butterfly's flight in directly aqueous terms. In her poem, butterflies do not flutter, they swim. They don't fly, they "leap." They don't set out from leaves or flowers, they set out from "banks."* And their movements are not merely serene, they are "plashless."

And, of course, the bird's movements are even "softer" than these butterflies and the oars.

This works really well because the sky and the sea are both vast, colorless expanses through which many things moved in many different ways.


ㅤ* Yes, the Banks are of Noon, but she still describes time using a water metaphor.

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  • So, too silver means " too delicate to be visible"?? I find the dictions ,"too silver and plashless " very weird. Commented Apr 28 at 17:49
  • Every Cloud Has a silver lining,! here silver alludes to brigh region it got me to think that too silver means very bright and visible and it was very clear and shiny seam Commented Apr 28 at 17:56
  • The OED says, "silver, adj. 7. poetic a. Soft, gentle" with a citation from Spenser's Faerie Queene 2.9.22 "All the night in siluer sleepe I spend." Commented Apr 28 at 18:02
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I enjoy Emily Dickinson, partly because her metaphors are so oblique and personal. She seems to allude to some stream of consciousness that that you have to try and imagine as best you can. The bird has made her think of water and the way that the surface of water, when treated gently, appears smooth and continuous without the seams that characterize man-made materials. I would say that she is not in fact describing the bird, but her own reaction to him, and has in fact retreated several layers inside that.

I have no idea whether this might help. It could be just me!

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