English Literature
A narrow Fellow in the Grass

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

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The Meaning Behind Emily Dickinson's "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

In 1865, Emily Dickinson, a prominent poet, composed the notable poem, "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass." Although it was one of the few works published during her lifetime, it remains a significant piece in her body of art. Through distinct figurative language and literary devices, this poem delves into the themes of the unknown and nature.

Understanding the Context of "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

To fully grasp the poem's meaning, it is essential to explore the author's background and the poem's history.

Biographical Insight

Emily Dickinson wrote "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" when she was 35 years old and had become a recluse, rarely leaving her family home. In 1866, it was published in the local newspaper, Springfield Republican, with some changes, including a different title: "The Snake."

Historical Influence

Dickinson's family practiced Calvinism, a branch of Christian Protestantism, and she was raised during the Second Great Awakening - a religious revival movement in early 19th century America. While she eventually rejected religion, its impact is evident in her poetry. The image of a snake holds biblical significance as it represents the devil's form when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. This event holds great significance in the Bible and may have shaped Dickinson's perspective on deception and its portrayal.

Literary Connections

Around the time of "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" was written, Romantic literature was gaining popularity in America. American Romanticism emphasized the power of nature, the universe, and individualism. Alongside contemporaries like Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dickinson was a significant figure in this movement. Her poem depicts the influence of nature on the human mind and utilizes Romanticism to play with the biblical association of the snake, using it as a symbol of human deceit.

The Poem: A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

A narrow fellow in the grassOccasionally rides -You may have met him? Did you notHis notice instant is -

The grass divides as with a comb,A spotted shaft is seen,And then it closes at your feetAnd opens further on -

He likes a boggy acre -A floor too cool for corn -But when a boy and barefootI more than once at noon

Have passed, I thought a whip-lashUnbraiding in the sunWhen stooping to secure itIt wrinkled and was gone -

Several of nature's peopleI know, and they know meI feel for them a transportOf cordiality

But never met this fellowAttended or aloneWithout a tighter breathingAnd zero at the bone.

The Poem's Message: A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

"A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" reminisces on a childhood encounter with a snake. The poem reflects on the dangers of nature and serves as a commentary on fear and deception.

Structure of "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

The poem consists of six stanzas, each containing four lines, making it a quatrain. Each stanza follows the same structure, adding to the poem's overall flow and impact.

The Unique Structure and Literary Devices in Emily Dickinson's "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

Dickinson's poem does not adhere to a specific form, such as a sonnet or ode, but it includes common elements found in much of her poetry. The poem uses common meter, alternating between lines of eight and six syllables in an iambic pattern, and follows an ABCB rhyme scheme, both frequently used by the poet. These features contribute to the poem's central theme.

Rhyme and Meter

"A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" follows an ABCB rhyme scheme, with some rhymes being slanted or imperfect, like "rides" and "is". The use of slant rhyme in the beginning of the poem reflects the uneasiness the speaker feels towards the snake. In the final stanzas, pure rhyme is used to symbolize the speaker's calmness and familiarity when referring to other animals.

The poem also utilizes common meter, alternating between lines of eight and six syllables in an iambic pattern. This consistent structure adds to the poem's flow and impact.

The use of common meter is prevalent in Romantic poetry and Christian hymns, and the inclusion of this rhythm in Emily Dickinson's poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" creates a rhythmic flow that mirrors the movements of a snake. The use of solely iambic trimeter in the third stanza and onwards adds a sense of urgency and breathlessness, effectively capturing the speaker's fear and tension when confronted with the snake.

Enhancing the Atmosphere

The poem also utilizes feminine endings, where an extra unstressed syllable is added at the end of a line, to further enhance the breathless and constricting atmosphere. One can see this effect in lines like "It wrinkled And was gone", which not only contributes to the sound and flow of the poem, but also represents the speaker's overwhelming and suffocating feeling in the presence of the snake.

Mimicking the Snake's Movements

Alliteration is employed throughout the poem to mimic the graceful movements of the snake. The repetition of the same letter at the beginning of words, such as "Boggy", "Barefoot", and "Boy", creates a smooth flow that replicates the snake's slithering in the grass. This is contrasted with the use of plosive sounds like "cool" and "Corn", which add to the unnaturalness and danger of the snake's presence.

Symbolism and Contrast

Personification is utilized in the poem by portraying the snake as a "Fellow". This creates a specific Biblical reference to the devil disguised as a snake in the Garden of Eden, allowing Dickinson to comment on the themes of deceit and danger. Additionally, the use of juxtaposition highlights the contrast between the speaker's feelings towards the snake and other animals. While they feel a sense of familiarity and warmth towards other creatures, the snake evokes fear and unease, causing a "tighter Breathing" and a feeling of "Zero at the Bone".

In conclusion, Emily Dickinson skillfully incorporates rhyme, meter, feminine endings, alliteration, personification, and juxtaposition in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" to convey the speaker's unease and fear towards the snake. These literary devices not only contribute to the overall theme of the poem, but also create a captivating reading experience that highlights the complicated relationship between fear and nature.

Exploring Fear and Perception in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

Emily Dickinson's poem, "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," utilizes figurative language and imagery to convey the speaker's fear and perception of a snake. Through the use of natural imagery, the speaker's connection to nature is emphasized while also highlighting the dangers that lurk within. The grass is described as a deceptive "comb," drawing attention to the snake's ability to blend in. The imagery of a "whip" also serves to convey the threat the snake poses.

Themes of Fear and Nature in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

  • Fear: The central theme of fear is explored in the poem as the speaker grapples with their fear of snakes. Dickinson also delves into the idea that fear can often be linked to disguise, as the snake is portrayed through metaphors and personification.
  • Nature: "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" delves into the concept of nature being both peaceful and dangerous. The speaker's affinity towards other animals highlights the peaceful aspect, while their fear towards the snake highlights its threatening nature.

The Duality of Nature in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

Emily Dickinson's 1866 poem, "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," employs literary devices such as alliteration, juxtaposition, and personification to explore the themes of fear and nature. The speaker reflects on a childhood encounter with a snake, highlighting the dual nature of nature itself - both beautiful and dangerous.

Setting the Scene for "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

The poem was written in 1865 and published a year later. The title itself suggests a specific time and place, likely a grassy field where the speaker met the snake. The word "narrow" sets a foreboding tone, hinting at the potential dangers lurking in nature's grasp.

Uncovering the Meaning of "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

The poem can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the perils of nature, with the snake representing deceit. The use of "fellow" humanizes the snake, emphasizing the conflicting nature of humanity's relationship with nature.

Exploring Poetic Techniques Used in "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"

The poem follows a common meter and ABCB rhyme scheme, creating a rhythmic flow that mirrors the slithering motion of the snake. Alliteration is also used to enhance the poem's rhythm and create a vivid hissing sound. Additionally, the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas accentuates the duality of nature and the snake.

The Encounter and Its Significance

The speaker recalls a moment where they tried to catch the snake, only for it to quickly escape. This moment symbolizes the fleeting nature of childhood innocence and the realization of the dangers in the world. The snake's "wrinkled" movements further add to the underlying sense of unease and tension in the poem.

In conclusion, "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" highlights the dual nature of nature and the importance of both admiring and fearing it. Through her use of poetic techniques, Dickinson effectively conveys the complexity of human emotions towards the unknown in nature.

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