A majority of literature lovers consider Emily Dickson (1830-1886) as one of the most candid and influential poets of all time. Although only a handful of her poems were published while she was still alive, she left behind a wealth of ironic, enigmatic, witty and magnificent work. Emily had a massive understanding and undoubted imagination of humanity and the world in general. Emily’s poem number 986 “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is full of sensual imagery. Here, Emily makes use of imagery to make a description of a snake slithering through the grass. Coupled with a unique choice of words, this poem is both relatable and readable.
The poem is one among a handful of Emily Dickson’s works that was published during her lifetime. The poem was written in 1965 and was anonymously published in the Springfield Republican in 1966. The poem describes the shock of encountering a snake moving through the grass. Emily, however, never uses the word “snake”, but her choice of words and imagery leaves a clear imagination of the snake in reader’s mind. The snake is ghost-like in the grass, with the speaker only seeing some flashes of its skin as it combs through the grass. Emily unconsciously tells the reader everything he or she needs to know about the psychological relationship that one can have with a snake.
The first instance of imagery is her description of the snake as a “narrow fellow” (Dickson 1). This description shows that the author uses unique phrasing in the poem. The adjective “narrow” is common, but when she blends it with “fellow”, she creates a visual meaning in the reader’s mind. The choice of the word “narrow” makes the reader think because she uses it in a context that the reader does not expect. Emily’s use of the word “fellow” indicates that the snake here is more a friend than an enemy as we can expect. However, the choice of the word is a clear indication that the persona in the poem has no prior relationship with a snake. In the contemporary world, people use the word “fellow” to describe someone that they do not know, but one who is not an enemy. The persona thus has no enmity with the creature treating the snake as a person who just stopped by to say “hello.”
In the second stanza, she says “The Grass divides as with a Comb/a spotted shaft is seen” (2-3). This gives the reader a clear image of the way the grass was separating as the snake was moving through the grass. It also shows that it is hard to see the snake because is twisting in the grass. We can also get another meaning from this description of the snake in the grass. Here, the grass seems so safe that the speaker has no fear walking through it, but without his or her knowledge, there is a dangerous creature in it. In the same way, the things of this world that appear subtle, sweet and pleasurable may contain harmful elements in them. The same goes with people. If we are too vulnerable and unprotected like the barefoot speaker walking through the grass, there are chances that people will exploit us when our defenses are low. The reference also makes the reader view the grass as hair.
Emily also employs organic imagery in lines 3 and 4 to describe the first feelings when encountering the snake. The speaker seems startled at first. The snake appears suddenly, and then disappears as fast as possible. Any reader who previously had an experience with a snake would relive that moment when reading these two lines “You may have met him? Did you not/His notice sudden is” (3-4).
Emily also uses imagery to describe the snake’s preference for a boggy acre. Most people would use the terms “land” or “ground” to describe their habitat. However, the snake is a creature that prefers the habitat that is far away from people. The use of the word “acre” is, therefore, appropriate in this case. Emily then goes on to describe her encounters with the fellow. Emily makes an admission that she catches a glimpse of the creature while she is young, trying to hold it, but the creature harmlessly slithers away. Although she is familiar with a host of the creatures, she has never met the fellow without it astounding her. She describes this by using the phrases “zero at the bone” and “tighter breathing” (23-24). It is as if her heart stops breathing every time she encounters the creature. For years, the snake has been used as a symbol of treachery; a creature that is impossible to love. Despite the fact that the snake slithers away without harming the barefoot boy, she goes on to term the snake as something that is impossible to love.
Poet lovers depend highly on imagery to get the gist and at least understand what the poet tries to communicate while writing a poem. However, majority of other poets makes their poems so complicated that their works seem like a puzzle, something the reader can never understand. The use of imagery in this poem gives the reader a vivid image of the scenario when the speaker meets the snake. The poem is a depiction of her artistry; it is a prime example of the effective use of imagery in the poetry.