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This brief essay attempts to analyze the poem, A Narrow Fellow In The Grass written by Emily Dickinson in 1865, though only published anonymously a year later, in the Springfield Republican Journal under the title The Snake, as she celebrated her Valentine. For the analysis, the essay will identify numerous aspects of the poem, unique to Dickson's style such as rhyming scheme, words choice, meter, imagery, metaphors and themes.
Dickson again builds a poem around a riddle, by contrasting what things appears to be against what they really are. In this poem Dickinson aims at representing one of the mysteries of nature, one regarded with loathing and hate, by using precisely selected words, specific rhyme, vivid imagery and a host of literary devices to achieve the effect of a riddle that a reader can only solve after reading the poem and perhaps realizing that the seemingly harmless subject of the poem is as terrifying as a snake is in real life.
The major theme that Dickson strives to communicate throughout the poem is that of the dysfunctional relationship between appearances and the reality (Johnson 711-712). All other literary devices employed in the poem as discussed hereunder, express this singular theme. The poem is built on the premise of contrasting what something appears to be visually, and what it really is (Johnson 711-712). The riddle poem extends a metaphor to aptly compare a snake to things that one commonly finds in real life, describing what one may see and then contrasting it to what such an object really is. What may look like a spotted shaft or a whip lash turns out to a snake. The parting of glass like a comb becomes the approach of a snake etc. Each of stanza in the poem works to offer some clues to the object being described, the narrow fellow, using imagery and vivid descriptions. The chosen words help to portray the picture rather than saying exactly what they mean.
Dickson has a mastery of poetic imagery that few other poets can master (Johnson 1137-1139). Dickson recreates a natural world by portraying vivid images. She narrates about one of the most infamous creatures in the world, the snake, in an indirect way such that the poem itself comes out as a riddle. She symbolizes its movements, its physique and its behaviors without ever mentioning its name. As such, a reader only captures the meaning expressed after decoding the symbolism. For instance, the scary encounter with a snake is symbolized by such expressions as a parting of the grass, the lash of a whip etc without actually mentioning the word snake.
She enhances the terror of such an encounter by using words like "barefoot" to symbolize susceptibility and vulnerability of humans against the serpent's threat (Johnson 711-712). The symbolism attains its maximal effect when one visualizes that, while reaching down to grab a whip, it turns out to be a snake 'slithering away'. The effect is only attained by a rich usage of symbolism and imagery (Franklin 1137-1139).
Imagery refers to the use of similes and metaphors to invoke meaning by associating phenomena
In this poem, the speaker uses metaphors to directly compare the snake such as when he/she calls the snake a spotted shaft, a Whip lash etc. One of the reasons why Dickson's symbolism makes such a profound impact is because it employs a very effective imagery. In common conception, a snake is regarded as the single most notorious creature in the world, a creature full of treachery. So when the speaker comes face to face with he or she manifests real terror. Yet to depict this terror, he or she employs imagery that effectively draws an image of being startled and chilled. Daniel Hoffman once referred to Dickinson's line, "Zero at the Bone", as the singular finest image of American poetry (Johnson 711-712). The line draws out a riveting image that describes the experience in vivid terms such that even the reader can feel it (Johnson 711-712).
Perhaps the single most effective image is that of a fellow
By describing the snake as the "narrow fellow", carries with it much more that one could get at the face value. This adjective, narrow, is a common term that one finds almost in every ordinary discourse, the same as the noun, fellow. But when the terms are welded together, they gain much more that their individual ordinary meanings. The term gains a visual-kinesthetic meaning (Franklin 1137-1139). One can almost imagine that the subject of the poem is a young boy, until another direct imagery (metaphor) used in the second line, captures the true meaning of who the speaker refers to as the narrow fellow. The line says that, 'rides along the ground', to give the first impression of the animate object being talked about. The same term, narrow fellow, is a personification of a snake which is inhuman. When human-like features are given to inhuman things, such as being called a fellow, which denotes a man or a boy, the imagery is referred to as personification. The same transpires when the speaker refers to the snake in the second line, thus' You may have met Him'.
In almost all of Dickinson's poetry, she adopts a unique use of style that constitutes a very complicated hybrid of various literary devices. In this poem for instance, she employs very short stanzas. The stanzas have very few words in each line and each stanza has only four of these short lines. This enables her to construct an impressive rhyme scheme that denotes the all too familiar Protestant hymns and nursery rhymes (Johnson 711-712).
To exemplify this phenomenon, the line "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass," suffices. This line has six quatrains and is alike to the other lines in the other stanzas. Each line rhymes only twice, exactly in the second line and then in the fourth line (Franklin 1137-1139). Most of these rhythms are of the iambic kind, meaning that the poem features two-syllable segments regularly recurring. The second stanza exemplifies this technique where the first line, 'The Grass divides as with a Comb-' matches with the third one, 'And then it closes at your feet' just as the second one, 'A spotted shaft is seen-', matches with the fourth, 'And opens further on-'. This phenomenon is what is referred to as the rhymed feet, where the first syllable occurs unstressed while the second syllable always occurs stressed. Another stylistic feature to note is that in all the first two quatrains in the poem, the hymn meter is laid out similarly or in a common manner i.e. in 'A narrow Fellow' vs. 'Occasionally rides' the hymn is equal just as it is in 'Yet when a Boy' vs. I more than once' (Johnson 711-712).
This essay successfully analyzed the poem A Narrow Fellow In The Grass as written by Emily Dickinson in 1865. The essay identified numerous aspects of the poem that depict Dickson's unique style such as theme, rhyming scheme, words choice, meter and imagery (metaphors). For the major theme of the poem, the essay has detailed how Dickson strives to symbolize the dysfunctional relationship between appearances and the reality. She uses all other literary devices in the poem to express this singular theme. For instance, her poetic imagery recreates a natural world with vivid images of things as they seem and how they turn out differently. She narrates about one of the most infamous creatures in the world, the snake, in an indirect way such that the poem itself comes out as a riddle.
The essay has also explored how the speaker uses metaphors to directly compare the snake such as when he/she calls the snake a spotted shaft, a Whip lash etc. Perhaps the single most effective image is that of a fellow. By describing the snake as the "narrow fellow", carries with it much more that one could get on the face value with the use personification. To conclude, the essay has also reviewed how Dickinson has used a unique style that constitutes a very complicated hybrid of various literary devices. In this poem for instance, she employs very short stanzas. The stanzas have very few words in each line and each stanza has only four of these short lines. This enables her to construct an impressive rhyme scheme that denotes the all too familiar Protestant hymns and nursery rhymes.