The Snake

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met Him - did you not
His notice sudden is -

The Grass divides as with a Comb -
A spotted shaft is seen -
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on -

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn -
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot -
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stopping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone -

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 -

Emily Dickinson(1830-1886)

Recalling a day Dad took me hunting in Texas, being the tom girl I was happy to tag along and while we traipsing along in the tall grasses looking for raccoons or armadillo and gathering prickly pear fruit for Grandma to magically transform into jelly....I saw Dad jump and give little holler in front of me then turn without a shadow of emotion and watch as I approached. At first glance it looked like a diamondback and I commenced to a conniption fit of girly screaming much to his laughing and grinsome delight, and this is what came to mind when I read this poem. Zero to the bone was surely how I felt as if all my blood had vanished along with my bones, I would surely topple over.

A good portion of Emily's poetry can be classified as Nature Poetry and this one falls in that category by mixing visual and aural imagery to convey meaning. She uses a scheme by alternating short and long words, a careful planning if letters and words and use of capital letters. She orchestrates imagery throughout the poem and without naming the object once, precisely describes a small snake and the reaction to encountering one in the grass--His notice sudden is is a clever use of syntax to produce a hiss. The feeling of shock and the casual appearance of the snake are only implied.

I read with interest some reactions to this piece along a Freudian thought. I found it for the most part unbelievable since Freud (as well as Jung) personalized their philosophies to an extreme and irony laughed last when he died of mouth cancer from smoking too many cigars. Somewhat more of an irony was the discovery of a letter she wrote to her mentor Thomas Higginson explaining why she didn't care for the way an editor had edited her unconventional punctuations.

Dickinson wrote:

    "I had told you I did not print," she enclosed a clipping of "The Snake," the version of "A narrow Fellow in / the Grass" which had appeared in the Springfield Daily Republican two months earlier, to demonstrate her reasons for choosing not to do so. She comments on the printed version: "Lest you meet my Snake and suppose I deceive it was robbed of me -- defeated too of the third line by the punctuation. The third and fourth were one -- I had told you I did not print -- I feared you might think me ostensible. . . " ( early 1866).
She appears angry because editors, presuming to know how the poem should be punctuated, inserted a comma that she had purposely omitted. By 1866 she had seen at least ten, very probably several, of her poems in print. The Republican had printed most of them, and in many of the printings Dickinson had seen alterations of her poems. According to her description of her own response to the printing, such editorial interference "defeated" her poetic objectives and dissuaded her from conventional publication via mechanical reproduction.

The focus is a feeling of fellowship and personal intimacy with the sentience of nature. Wittily playing on similarities to human beings in a poem such as "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" where fear, "zero at the bone," is one of the ingredients. A snake is endowed with the familiar yet distancing expression "fellow." The element is celebrated, as is its capacity to shock - both the poem and Dad as it were, are an integral part of the unparalleled snakiness of snakes.


The Importance of a Hypermedia Archive of Dickinson's Creative Work:

Public domain text taken from Representative Poetry Online:

For copyright information please see my write-up under Emily Dickinson.
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