Welcome to Nebo Literature.

A narrow fellow in the grass - Emily Dickinson

As part of Dickinson's nature poems, this poem is fuller, more coherent and personal.  The use of personal pronouns, ( third person) “him”, (second)  “you”, and (first) “I” all provide an inclusive warm and intimate tone.  The setting is immediately recognisable and familiar.  The noun “fellow” is casual, colloquial and accepting.  We are encouraged to feel close, to and identify with the snake as one of us through the direct address, personification of “he” and “him” as well the rhetorical question; “—did you not.”   

The snake is described variously at a distance – “in the grass” “divides as a comb”, a spotted shaft”, “a whip-lash”.

Dickinson finds an affinity with “nature’s other people” - another personification of creatures but also realises that nature can turn threatening. So while she belongs, she also feels alienated. As in other poems, the dichotomy of affinity and repulsion are evident here.  Nature can be benevolent, but also pitiless and sinister.  Much of the tension in the poem derives from our latent fear of snakes. 

Though not a pantheist, she may have closely identified with the “druids”, thought to be translated to “wisdom of the trees”, an Earth-based spirituality  connecting with the energy of the land, and with animals, plants and natural philosophy.

Initially we are lulled into sense of communion with nature as the snake appears harmless, however as the poem progresses, the snake’s presence becomes more ominous and sinister. By the end fear is evoked by “Without a tighter breathing,/And zero at the bone.” - we become paralysed.

Allegorically, snakes symbolise evil; the temptation of the Biblical Eve, or archetypes as a phallic symbol, while literally a lethal danger because of their surreptitious venomous bites.  As in other poems, her strong religious background comes to the fore in a liberal use of Biblical allusions.

Some critics find this a masculine poem - the masculine pronouns, “he, him” which excludes the feminine. Dickinson was renown as a youthful “tomboy” and occasionally adopts a male persona. This may indicate she is a product of a patriarchal society. 

A Narrow Fellow in The Grass turns out to be a very personal but child-like wonder poem of a persona in tune with nature but also aware of its inherent dangers.


[Go Back A Page] [Top Of Page]