"There is no Frigate like a Book" was a hidden gem of Emily Dickinson's – it comes from a letter written in 1873, and was actually originally published in Volume I of her Letters (1894), not in a book of poems. From this undistinguished start, it went on to be one of Dickinson's best-known poems. Unlike many of her other greatest hits, this one is accessible to all age levels (check out the adorable video of a little kid reciting this poem in the "Best of the Web" section – that child puts us all to shame!).
Why, you may ask, has this poem gotten so famous? At first glance, it looks like the kind of poem a poet would dash off just for fun in a letter to a friend – it's short, sweet, and has a clear kind of "moral of the story." However, there's more to it than that.
"There is no Frigate like a Book" can also be read as a touching version of a theme that many of Dickinson's tougher and weirder poems embrace: escape. The famously reclusive poet tells us here how we can all take a vacation from our own lives by reading. A book, the poem suggests, is the best way to travel to mystical lands and far-off places, if only in our imaginations. Knowing what we know about Dickinson's hermit-like life, it makes sense that she would seek escape through reading-inspired flights of fancy.
This isn't our standard operating procedure, but we just can't resist the urge to make this "Why Should I Care?" a "Why Does Shmoop Care?" instead. We here at Shmoop totally looooove this poem. In a way, it's kind of like a Shmoop manifesto. Actually, since you can sing it to the tune of "Amazing Grace" (like all Dickinson poems), we could even make it our official theme song. Hmm, that's a thought – we'll have to get back to you on that one.
Ahem, anyway. We love the message that Dickinson communicates so well here. Reading, the poem suggests, a free ticket to other worlds, filled with uncharted territory, interesting new friends (and enemies), and thrilling adventures. If you're feeling bored and antsy, why not go On the Road with Jack Kerouac? Sick of your schoolday routine? Check out J.K. Rowling's series and transfer to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with Harry Potter. Longing for some glamour and romance in your life? Head over to The Great Gatsby's mansion for a roaring (Twenties) good time. Aching to see the stars? Hop on the next shuttle to space with Ender's Game. Seen like this, a library is more than just a room full of dusty old books – it's a portal to thousands of new worlds.
It's this same exciting, lively, and fun quality of literature that we at Shmoop are so obsessed with. Cheesy at it may sound, we just love traveling with you, dear Shmoopers, on these journeys through the literary universe, and we hope you like traveling with us, too. We try our best to be helpful guides and entertaining companions. And of course, our little literary trips together online are always, as Dickinson says, "Without oppress of Toll" – that is, free.
Emily Dickinson at Poets.org
Here's a straightforward introduction to Dickinson's life and works from the trusty folks at poets.org.
A Glimpse into the Poet's Life
Here you'll find the Emily Dickinson Museum, which is located in her lifelong home in Amherst, MA.
Glenn Close Reads Emily Dickinson
Here's a lovely reading of this lovely poem by a lovely actress.
A young Dickinson fan recites the poem with admirable poise.
"English Guy In Texas"
Here's a rather basic, but helpful analysis of this poem from a helpful fellow who just goes by the above name. Thanks, English Guy!
"Take a look – it's in a book – it's Reading Rainbow!"
Okay, maybe we're just being characteristically over-enthusiastic, but we think there's a marked similarity between Dickinson's poem and a certain classic theme song of the '80s…
Emily Dickinson at LibriVox
Listen to amateurs reading a number of Dickinson's poems at this awesome website (along with tons of other great works).
Frigates. Are. Awesome.
We just got distracted by browsing the amazing ship paintings to be found at the aptly named ship-paintings.com website.
Behold, the Magnificent Frigate Bird!
Okay, this is pretty far off topic, but this animal is simply too cool to pass up.