The Moon is distant from the Sea – Emily Dickinson

I read this poem by Emily Dickinson first time in August 2011. I’m reading it again on Halloween day, October 2020. It happens a full moon day, and a blue moon because this is the second full moon of the month (this happens once in around 2.7 years).  First the poem, and then my notes.

The Moon is distant from the Sea –
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands – 

He never misses a Degree –
Obedient to Her eye –
He comes just so far – toward the Town –
Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber Hand –
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eye impose on me –

A partially eclipsed super blue blood moon sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge on Jan. 31, 2018, in San Francisco. The "super blue blood moon" is a rare "lunar trifecta" event and was the first such lunar event seen in North America since 1866.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I hadn’t noticed that there was a gender change on Moon by Emily Dickinson in the poem. Perhaps I didn't notice it because it made sense to me. But today when I read an analysis on the Prowling Bee I can see where the confusion lies. In the third sentence Emily calls the moon “she” and then in the last stanza she calls him “signor.”  I don't think this was a mistake by her; it was intentional. Just like the moon controls the sea with her amber hands, providence has the ultimate control over the poet's life and keeps an eye on her.  

Notes from 2011:
How true it is that we don't have control. There are invisible, amber hands that guide us along appointed sands. We are obedient in our singing. This reminds of Guru Nanak's poem in Japji, "Aakhan Jor" where Jor means power or control: 

Aakhan jor chupai nah jor.
There is no power in speaking; there is no power in silence.
Jor na mangan dayn na jor.
Power is not gained through begging; there is no power in giving.
Jor na jeevan maran nah jor.
Power is not gained through living; there is no power in death.
Jor na raaj maal man sor.
Power is not gained by ruling over others with one’s wealth and occult mental powers.
Jor na surtee gi-aan veechaar.
Power is not gained through understanding, spiritual wisdom, and meditation.
Jor na jugtee chhutai sansaar.
Power is not gained by finding a way to escape from the world.
Jis hath jor kar vaykhai so-ay.
It is He who watches over all who has the Power.14
Nanak utam neech na koay
O Nanak, no one is high nor low.

The Lovely Rhyming and Perfection of Imperfection 

Emily Dickinson's poem "The Moon is Distant from the Sea" was published after her death in 1890 in The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, as part of a series of love-themed poems. The poem uses an extended metaphor to explore the relationship between a man and a woman, comparing it to the relationship between the moon and the sea. What I find beautiful is that the alternating meter creates a gentle and rhythmic lull, reflecting the moon's consistent pull on the sea.

The rhyme scheme of the poem reflects the story of the lovers, with imperfect and inconsistent rhymes throughout. The first and second stanzas represent the relationship between the woman (the Moon) and the man (the Sea). The Moon leads the Sea "docile as a boy" along the appointed sands with "amber hands." The second stanza suggests that the Sea is obedient to the Moon's eye and "never misses a Degree." The third stanza reverses the roles, with the man becoming the "amber-handed" Moon and the woman becoming the "distant" and "obedient" Sea. Despite the role reversal, their harmonious relationship remains intact.


  1. ¿Cómo que tus notes?, has copiado y pegado el trabajo de otra persona que también está subido en la web. Que poca vergüenzaaaa.