in A Level, English Literature, Poetry

Below, you’ll find part of an analysis of the poem A Narrow Fellow in the Grass by Emily Dickinson.

Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below.


LINK TO THE FULL POEM

STORY/SUMMARY 

Stanza 1: A narrow creature occasionally rides through the grass – You have met him before too, haven’t you? He suddenly appears without warning and lets you know that he’s there – 

Stanza 2: When he appears, the tall grass divides in two as if it was being split by a comb, and you see a long, spotted, narrow shaft moving through it – the grass parts in front of you as he moves through, then it closes at your feet – and opens up further on, behind you – 

Stanza 3: He likes to live in swampy, boggy land – he slithers through marsh grasses where the mud is too cool and wet for corn to grow – but when I was a boy and walking barefoot through the swamp, more than once at noon

Stanza 4: (continued from ‘more than once at noon’) I passed by what I thought was the tail of a leather whip lying in the sun, and when I bent down to grab hold of it, it wrinkled and disappeared – 

Stanza 5: I’m acquainted with several of Nature’s creatures; I know them and they also recognise me, I feel as though I should extend friendship and happiness towards them 
Stanza 6: But I have to admit that when it comes to the snake, I have never met this fellow, either by myself or even with other people around, without feeling a sharp sense of panic tighten my chest and a chill in my bones.

SPEAKER/VOICE

It is important to note that the speaker is male, and therefore not representative of Dickinson herself in this poem. It may have been influenced by an anecdote told to her by a friend, or she may have simply thought that walking ‘barefoot’ through a swamp was more of a ‘boyish’ thing to do, and therefore changed her poetic persona to male. Either way, be careful not to state that Dickinson herself is providing the account of the story. 
Adopting a conversational tone, the speaker asks the addressee (presumably the general reader) whether we ever saw a snake? He states that the snake appears instantly – speaking to us as if the snake is a slightly unusual man who does not follow the customary rules of society, and therefore represents a certain fear or danger which we associate with something unknown or non-compliant with the normal social rules. This perhaps suggests that he feels Nature also mostly works by codes and rules that most animals follow – allowing them to coexist happily alongside one another – but that somehow the snake seems to live by its own rules, which makes it potentially threatening.

THEMES 

TASK: For each of the themes below, make a mind map and explore quotations that relate to it. What, in your opinion, is Dickinson’s final message or statement about each theme? 
  • Fear 
  • Wildness 
  • Nature 
  • Danger 
  • Instinct 
  • Illusion 
  • Human nature 
  • Friendship 
  • Psychology 
  • Social and Natural laws 
  • Decep

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here.

For all our English Literature and Language courses, click here.

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