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The Poetry by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most famous and loved poets in American literature. The author’s word choice and use of punctuation make her works outstanding, as they combine both sound and pause, resembling the wind. Dickinson avoids conformity, as Emerson would say, and she creates her own poetry rules. Sound Winds Jostle Them, A Bird Came Down the Walk and A Narrow Fellow in the Grass are the works which best translate the author’s attitude towards the world of nature.

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The poetry of Emily Dickinson is rich in ambiguity. She uses simple, yet descriptive language to transfer the beautiful pictures of nature. For instance, A Bird Came Down the Walk pictures the sky with a vivid metaphor of the sea, where butterflies “leap, splashless, as they swim” (Dickinson 190). The movements of flying creatures that resemble the calm motion of fish in the water is a clear substitution of concepts. This combination of two incompatible things (the water and the butterflies) allows readers to interpret it in different ways. The ambiguity inherent in Dickinson’s poetic language can also be observed in South Winds Jostle Them:

“South winds jostle them −

Bumblebees come ̶

Hover ̶ hesitate, ̶

drink, and are gone ̶” (Dickinson 71).

It seems that the poem does not have a center. However, the ambiguity and density represented there form a particular shape. Moreover, it is not clear whom or what the pronoun “them” denotes. They may be bumblebees or butterflies, or some other creatures and things that are left unnamed. Similarly, In A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, Dickenson uses metaphor to describe a snake without naming it directly:

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“A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met him? Did you not

His notice instant is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb,

A spotted Shaft is seen,

And then it closes at your Feet

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And opens further on” (Dickinson 490)

The poet does not name the snake directly but uses images in a way that readers still understand she is speaking of it. The intentional reticence and indirect indications are the major principles of Dickenson’s work. However, this type of ambiguity expressed through understatements make her poetry very convincing. The reviewed means of expression emphasize the role of the poet as an intermediary between readers and the thundering truth.

Beauty plays an important part in Dickinson’s poetry. In A Bird Came Down the Walk and Sound Wind Jostle Them, the author shows her admiration for flying creatures: butterflies and bees.

“Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam —

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon

Leap, plashless as they swim” (Dickinson 190).

The image may give readers the idea that flying could be one of her secret dreams, common among the artists of all times. It is possible as well, that coming from the Puritan family, Dickinson perceived the sky as the place of Heaven.

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In A Narrow Fellow in the Grass we can observe a strong emotional connection of the author to nature. Dickinson experiences very mixed feeling when encountering a snake – both fascination and fear. The author’s meeting with the creature cannot leave her “without a tighter breathing” (Dickinson 490). As though she wants to keep the distance from the snake, Dickinson calls a fellow. Yet, the sense of beauty prevails over fear.

Following the image of the snake, it is easy to notice that the author personalizes animals. Her fellow “rides” (Dickinson 489); but snakes cannot ride, they slide. Even though both verbs describe movement, the former relates to people. The same personification can be seen in Sound Winds Jostle Them, where bumblebees “hover, hesitate” before drinking (Dickinson 71). This hovering equals hesitation in the author’s perception. In this way, she endows the bees with clearly human qualities as if they are can analyze situations and weigh the pros and cons of their actions.

Probably, the best animal behavior resembling human can be traced in A Bird Came Down the Walk. The bird demonstrates the ability to distinguish danger like all animals do, yet it does it in a critical way. Moreover, Dickinson refers to the bird as “he” (189). In her poem, the bird is a person. It demonstrates that through her poetry, she attempted to define the nature and understand its mysteries. At the same time, it allowed to express her attachment to and respect towards the environment she lives in.

The tone created by Dickinson emphasizes her attitude towards nature as the place of wonders. Animals do not simply surround her; they present the whole separate world where people are merely the viewers standing aside:

“A Bird came down the Walk —

He did not know I saw—

He bit an Angleworm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw” (Dickinson 190).

Here, we see that the author does not interact with the bird but only stands aside watching the process and trying to comprehend the meaning hidden in it. Even in A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, she emphasizes the beauty of nature, despite her fear of the main character:

“Several of Nature’s People

I know, and they know me

I feel for them a transport

Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter Breathing

And Zero at the Bone” (Dickinson 490).

Here, we can observe Dickenson’s respect and love flora and fauna which cannot be dispelled even by fear. South Winds Jostle Them also demonstrates the poetess’ closeness to nature:

“Butterflies pause,

On their passage Cashmere;

I, softly plucking,

Present them here!” (Dickinson 71).

In this poem, the author is an actor as well. She observed the butterflies when “softly plucking” some plants. This action transfers a sense of connectedness to the environment. Dickinson is represented as its integral part performing own function in the whole similarly to butterflies.

The poems translate the feelings of the nature speaking. The use of language supports these feelings. In South Winds Jostle Them the line “hover – hesitate” (Dickinson 71) is very soft, as it creates a feeling of a gentle wind carrying the bumblebees. The given softness of indistinct h is opposed to rigidity and sharpness of the overall structure of the poem – punctuated, short, and well-paused.

The analyzed poems indicate at the significance of nature in Dickinson’s self-identity. She is actively involved in the life surrounding her, but she also keeps a distance from every creature and phenomenon she observes in nature.

The meter of the three poems is the element which is unique to Dickinson. A Narrow Fellow in the Grass begins with a typical meter of eight and six syllables. After the first eight lines, the situation changes, as the line structure has seven and six syllables after each other. A Bird Came Down the Walk also lacks the uniform structure, with lines having different length throughout the poem. Finally, South Winds Jostle Them lacks any set order. It could be called a free verse if not for the rhyme. The chosen rhythm of poems emphasizes the idea that Dickinson did not develop them artificially. She rather created the text on the spot, as though it was a result of observation or a deep feeling caused by an event. Instead of providing an easy-to-read verse, Dickinson offers to share her thoughts and experience step by step.

Dickinson’s virtuosity in using the first letters to emphasize the line’s action can also be traced in A Bird Came Down the Walk, where “oars divide the ocean, too silver for a seam” (190). The o vowel sounds like the waves gently rolling over the stones, while the s sound is sharp like metal. In A Narrow Fellow in the Grass the lines ending with the prolonged vowels are interchanged with harder consonants:

“Several of Nature’s People

I know, and they know me

I feel for them a transport

Of Cordiality” (Dickinson 490).

The contrasting sounds emphasize the dual and ambiguous character of her poems. At the same time, it is possible to say that Dickenson uses the language to replicate the sounds of the surrounding world.

The punctuation used in all of Dickinson’s poems is a matter of interest to the researchers of her works. The three poems described above have many dashes and commas. For instance:

“Bumblebees come ̶

Hover ̶ hesitate, ̶

drink, and are gone ̶” (Dickinson 71).

The dashes in the poem are used to emphasize the uniqueness of each action. In this way, the author visually separates them.

The use punctuation is a unique feature of Dickenson’s poetry. It allows the authors to create concise, short, yet thought-through and meaningful verses with significant emotional implications.

In A Bird Came Down the Walk, she extensively uses dashes:

“And then he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass —

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass —” (Dickinson 190).

Although what we read in verse is perceived as a continual process, the dashes are applied to cover the gaps in Dickinson’s narration and introduce pauses between every separate bird’s action.

The punctuation signs are put in specific places in her poems to make readers stop for a while and feel what the author felt while creating these poems. Dickinson’s use of punctuation corresponds with Emerson’s idea that it is crucial to be a thinking man instead of living in a constant state of occupancy.


The analysis of the selected poems reveals that although it may seem that the plot in Dickenson’s poems is simple, the controversies and dualities created through metaphors, verse structuring, selection of words, etc. indicate that these poems have complex implications. The author is prone to the creation of paradoxes, whimsical curves of thought, and erasing the boundaries between surrealism and truth. She seems to be very disciplined in her creative process, but the seeming sharpness of verse structures does not burden her works. And this multilateral ambiguity is one of the major features of Dickenson’s poetry.

Work Cited

Dickinson, Emily. Emily Dickinson’s Poems. Edited by Cristanne Miller, Harvard University Press, 2016.

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