'As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies' by Emily Dickinson

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As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies
As the Vulture teased
Forces the Broods in lonely Valleys
As the Tiger eased

By but a Crumb of Blood, fasts Scarlet
Till he meet a Man
Dainty adorned with Veins and Tissues
And partakes—his Tongue

Cooled by the Morsel for a moment
Grows a fiercer thing
Till he esteem his Dates and Cocoa
A Nutrition mean

I, of a finer Famine
Deem my Supper dry
For but a Berry of Domingo
And a Torrid Eye.

Editor 1 Interpretation

As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies: A Masterpiece by Emily Dickinson


Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poet from Amherst, Massachusetts, is known for her unconventional style and unconventional themes. Her poems often explore the depths of human emotions and the mysteries of life and death. "As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies" is one of her most enigmatic and powerful poems, full of vivid imagery and haunting symbolism. In this literary criticism, I will explore the multiple layers of meaning in this masterpiece and offer my interpretation of its significance.


Before we dive into the poem itself, it's important to provide some context about Dickinson's life and work. Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and lived a remarkably secluded life, rarely leaving her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite her lack of formal education and social connections, she wrote nearly 1,800 poems during her lifetime, many of which were only published after her death in 1886. Dickinson's poems are characterized by their unconventional style, which often includes irregular meter, unconventional punctuation, and unusual syntax. Her themes are similarly unconventional, exploring topics such as death, nature, and spirituality.

Analysis and Interpretation

"As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies" is a poem that defies easy interpretation. At first glance, it seems to be a simple description of a storm at sea, with the titular maelstrom lapping at the ships caught in its path. However, upon closer inspection, the poem reveals itself to be full of rich symbolism and ambiguity.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the maelstrom as "starved," a word that immediately creates a sense of hunger and desperation. The maelstrom is not just a natural phenomenon, but a force of destruction that is driven by a hunger that cannot be satisfied. The fact that the maelstrom is "starved" suggests that it is not just a physical force, but a metaphor for something deeper, perhaps a hunger for power or control.

The next lines of the poem describe the way that the maelstrom "laps" at the navies, a verb that suggests a kind of predatory behavior. The maelstrom is not simply pushing the ships around or dragging them under, but actively pursuing them, like a predator after its prey. This image is further reinforced by the use of the word "navies," which implies a large and powerful force that is being overpowered by the maelstrom.

The next stanza of the poem introduces a new element, the "sudden host." This phrase is open to interpretation, but it could refer to the sudden appearance of a new force in the midst of the storm. This force could be a second maelstrom, or it could be something else entirely, such as a group of pirates or a supernatural entity. Whatever it is, it is described as "sudden," suggesting that it is unexpected and perhaps even miraculous.

The final stanza of the poem is where things get really interesting. The speaker describes the way that the "sea yawns" and the ships "sink." This is a powerful image that suggests a kind of ultimate destruction, as if the sea itself is opening up to swallow the ships whole. However, the final lines of the poem suggest a kind of transcendence, as the ships are described as "steadfast" and "serene," even as they sink beneath the waves. This image of serenity in the midst of destruction is both beautiful and haunting, and it suggests that there is something beyond the physical realm that can provide comfort and solace in times of turmoil.


"As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies" is a powerful and enigmatic poem that explores themes of hunger, destruction, and transcendence. Dickinson's unconventional style and use of rich symbolism create a sense of ambiguity and mystery that invites multiple interpretations. Ultimately, the poem suggests that even in the midst of chaos and destruction, there is a sense of serenity and steadfastness that can transcend the physical world. Whether read as a metaphor for the human psyche or as a meditation on the mysteries of life and death, "As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies" is a masterpiece of poetic artistry that continues to captivate readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies: A Masterpiece of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson, one of the most celebrated poets of all time, is known for her unique style of writing and her ability to convey complex emotions through her poetry. One of her most famous works is the poem "As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies," which is a powerful and evocative piece that explores the themes of destruction, chaos, and the power of nature.

The poem begins with the line "As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The use of the word "starved" suggests that the maelstrom is hungry and desperate, and the fact that it is "lapping" the navies implies that it is consuming them with a voracious appetite. This creates a sense of danger and urgency, as if the maelstrom is a force to be reckoned with.

The second line of the poem, "We shall return to Doom," reinforces this sense of danger and impending doom. The use of the word "Doom" suggests that there is no escape from the maelstrom's wrath, and that all who encounter it are doomed to be consumed by its power. This creates a sense of inevitability and hopelessness, as if there is no way to avoid the destruction that is coming.

The third line of the poem, "Fortune, my Foe, why dost thou stare," introduces the theme of fate and the idea that our destinies are predetermined. The use of the word "Fortune" suggests that our lives are governed by luck and chance, and that we have no control over our fate. The fact that Fortune is described as a "foe" implies that it is something to be feared and avoided, as if it is a force that is working against us.

The fourth line of the poem, "With thy pale, blank eye," reinforces this sense of fear and uncertainty. The use of the word "pale" suggests that Fortune is cold and unfeeling, and the fact that its eye is "blank" implies that it is indifferent to our struggles and our fate. This creates a sense of isolation and despair, as if we are alone in the face of an uncaring and unpredictable universe.

The fifth line of the poem, "Why dost thou twist thy lips in scorn," introduces the theme of mockery and the idea that our struggles are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The use of the word "scorn" suggests that Fortune is mocking us, as if it finds our struggles amusing or insignificant. This creates a sense of frustration and anger, as if we are being taunted by a force that is beyond our control.

The sixth and final line of the poem, "Would that I could fly away," expresses the speaker's desire to escape from the chaos and destruction that surrounds them. The use of the word "fly" suggests that the speaker wants to transcend their earthly limitations and rise above the chaos and destruction that surrounds them. This creates a sense of longing and desperation, as if the speaker is searching for a way to escape from the maelstrom's grasp.

Overall, "As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of destruction, chaos, and the power of nature. Through her use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Emily Dickinson creates a sense of danger and urgency that draws the reader in and leaves them feeling both exhilarated and terrified. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply appreciate the power of language, this poem is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience the full range of human emotion.

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