“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is one of the most admired and best known poems by Emily Dickinson. It was publicized Feb. 14, 1866 without the author’s knowing, entitled “The Snake”. However, the poem has been constructed to pose a sort of a riddle for the readers and therefore it was essential to restore its original title, which is “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”.
The poem depicts an alarming sensation of encountering a snake. However, the author never actually uses a word “snake”, replacing it by such phrases as “a narrow fellow in the grass”, “a whip-lash unbraiding in the sun”. Although Emily Dickinson is well known for her love and admiration of nature, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is more than a mere nature poem; it is personal and explicit. The author uses personal pronouns such as “him, “you” and”I” in the third, second and first person accordingly, colloquial word “fellow” to refer to a snake. All these tools are used to create a casual and accepting atmosphere and help readers identify with nature as much as the author does. She calls creatures of nature “nature’s people” who “I know and they know me”, which is one more example of personification. Dickinson avoids using labels in her poem, and because of this the poem bares slight resemblance to a riddle, revealing the author’s desire to show respect for the nature and percept its creatures the way they are.
“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” aims to seize the moment of suddenly seeing a snake. The snake is described as an autonomous and mysterious recluse, which is not to be taken for granted or treated superficially. Even though Dickinson uses colloquial “fellow”, she also regards the snake at distance – “in the grass”, as it “divides as a comb”, calls it “a spotted shaft” and “a whip-lash”. She encounters it “Without a tighter breathing,/And zero at the bone.”, meaning that she’s startled and scared, understanding that snake presents a threat. The image of snake is allegorical, as it has a broad symbolic meaning, representing duality, temptation and evil. It is also a powerful Biblical allusion.
From a retrospect of literary merits, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is a verse written in six stanzas, each consisting of four lines. However, the poem is not arranged in a distinct rhyme scheme. The rhyme is smattered and used along with the near rhyme. Hence, the author creates necessary atmosphere and evokes corresponding feelings. These goals are also reached by a rare and original combination of simple diction and a unique word usage. Thus, a word “acre” is unusual in use, clearly replacing more obvious use of words like “ground”, or “land”. Yet, the author never looks for an easy way to go, experimenting with the phrasing and word order. A strange word order in “His notice sudden is—” imitates instant confusion experienced by the speaker on noticing a snake all of a sudden.
Dickinson’s poem is filled with precise, accurate and very well-aimed imagery and a skilful use of figurative language and poetic devices. The author uses simile comparing the snake’s body to a comb, dividing a grass. She contrasts two kinds of reaction to a snake: one of an adventurous child, who tries to capture the creature, and another – of a gown-up, who is startled. In the line “His notice sudden is –” we encounter sibilance, a repetition of sound “s”, which is aimed to imitate the sound of snake and create an impression of its presence. The use of dashes in punctuation also makes the poem unique, introducing a remote author, who tries hard to recollect bright memories of childhood, giving the reader opportunity to participate, evoking thoughts and feelings.
Emily Dickinson’s “Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is one of the finest samples of American poetry, written by the greatest American female poet of the XIX century.