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A Bird came down the Walk

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English Literature

'A Bird, came down the Walk' is a poem written by Emily Dickinson that was published posthumously in 1891. In the poem, Dickinson uses her signature rhyme scheme and meter to explore themes of nature, and the symbol of the bird is used to represent nature's simultaneous beauty and brutality.

A Bird, came down the Walk: summary

Published in 1891
Written by Emily Dickinson
Form Irregular form
StructureFive Quatrains
MeterIambic Trimeter and Iambic Tetrameter
Rhyme Scheme ABCB
Poetic Devices AlliterationJuxtapositionSimilePersonification (of birds)
Frequently Noted Imagery Birds
ToneCurious, fascination
Key ThemesNature
MeaningNature is both beautiful and harmonious, as well as dangerous and unsettling.

A Bird, came down the Walk: context

Biographical context

It is believed that Dickinson wrote 'A Bird, came down the Walk' in 1862, following a decade in her life that had been full of death. Her cousin, Sophia Holland, and friend, Benjamin Franklin Newton, had both died as had her close companion Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson’s mother had also become bedridden with illness during the 1850s, requiring the care of her daughters.

Throughout this period, Emily Dickinson began to extract herself from public life and limit her time away from home. 'A Bird, came down the Walk' was composed a year after ''Hope' is the thing with feathers' (1861) another Dickinson poem that focused on the power of nature – birds, in particular.

Why do you think Emily Dickinson wrote poetry about nature while she did not leave her home?

Historical context

Emily Dickinson grew up during the Second Great Awakening, which was a Protestant revival movement during the early nineteenth century in America. She grew up when this movement was in force and, although she ultimately rejected religion, the influence of religion can still be seen in her poetry.

Literary context

Emily Dickinson’s work is heavily influenced by the American Romantics – a literary movement that emphasised nature, the power of the universe, and individualism. This movement included writers such as Dickinson herself, as well as Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. During this movement, Dickinson focused on exploring the influence of nature on the mind and took an interest in writing about individuality through this lens.

Alongside the Romantic movement, the Transcendentalist movement was gaining immense popularity in America. Transcendentalism is a literary movement that believes in the divinity of nature (valuing nature as something holy). 'A Bird, came down the Walk' reflects these Romantic and Transcendentalist ideas by reflecting on the power of nature and its effect on human spirituality.

A Bird, came down the Walk: poem and analysis

A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –
He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,
And rowed him softer Home –
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim

Meaning

'A Bird, came down the Walk' is about the simultaneous beauty and brutality of nature. The speaker's experience with the bird shows the delicate harmony that exists in nature between beauty and danger, and this is reflected in the poem's form and content.

Form

'A Bird, came down the Walk' follows a common form found in many of Emily Dickinson's works. While there is no set form (such as an ode or sonnet), the poem is similar to a ballad because of its rhythm, rhyme scheme and meter. Ballads are typically sung, and their sing-song like quality is achieved through rhymes (alternating rhymes or rhyming couplets) and the use of the iambic foot.

Ballad: a poem that narrates a story in short stanzas.

Structure

There are five stanzas in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'. The stanzas are quatrains, as each stanza is comprised of four lines.

Stanza One

In the first stanza, the speaker states that a bird walked in front of her, although the bird could not see her. She then watched the bird eat half of a worm.

Stanza Two

The speaker then states that she saw the bird drink a dewdrop from a blade of grass, before jumping out of the way of a beetle.

Stanza Three

In the third stanza, the speaker makes observations about the physical traits of the bird. She notices that the bird is moving its eyes around nervously and that it is also moving its head.

Stanza Four

The speaker then offers the bird a crumb, however, the bird startles and flies away. The speaker comments on what the bird's wings are like while in flight.

Stanza Five

In the final stanza, the speaker continues her comparison of the bird's wings. She first states that they are like oars in the ocean, before also comparing them to a butterfly.

A Bird, came down the Walk: rhyme scheme

Throughout 'A Bird, came down the Walk' there is a consistent ABCB rhyme scheme.

A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

For example, in the first stanza above, 'Walk' and 'halves' do not rhyme, while 'saw' rhymes with 'raw'. Occasionally, this rhyme scheme uses slant rhyme to continue. We can see this in the final stanza of the poem below:

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim

In this stanza, we see that 'Ocean' and 'Noon' still do not rhyme. However, 'seam' and 'swim' do not rhyme perfectly, and are, instead, slant rhymes.

Slant rhymes: words that do not rhyme with identical sounds.

Sometimes, slant rhymes are easier to spot when they are read in the same accent as the poet. Try rhyming 'feathers' and 'words' in an American accent!

Rhythm and Meter

'A Bird, came down the Walk' is written as two lines of iambic trimeter, followed by one line of iambic tetrameter and ends each stanza with another line of iambic trimeter.

  • Iambic trimeter: a line of poetry that consists of three iambic feet (one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable).
  • Iambic tetrameter: a line of poetry that consists of four iambic feet (one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable).

The first line of the first stanza is written in iambic trimeter, as there are three iambic feet (the stressed syllables are shown in bold and the iambic feet are divided by vertical bar):

'A Bird, | came down | the Walk –'

In the third line of the poem, this changes to iambic tetrameter, as there are four iambic feet:

'He bit | an Ang | le Worm | in halves'

Can you identify the meter in the second stanza of the poem?

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

In this stanza, there are six syllables (or three metrical feet) in the first two lines, followed by eight syllables (or four metrical feet) in the third line, and the final line of the quatrain reverts back to the initial six-syllable structure.

A Bird, came down the Walk: poetic devices

Dashes and caesuras

Caesura: a pause in a line of poetry that can be created using punctuation such as a comma (,), full stop (.), or a dash (–).

One of the most notable features in Emily Dickinson's poetry is her use of dashes (–). These dashes are placed throughout the poem to break up lines of poetry, creating caesuras in the lines. The caesuras are used to form pauses that replicate how the bird pauses at different points of the poem.

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –

Enjambement

Enjambement: when one line of poetry continues into the next line without a pause to carry forward a point or idea.

In the last quatrain, the caesuras are replaced with enjambement as the bird flies away. As the bird takes flight, these dashes become less prevalent in the poem, showing how the animal's actions are more fluid when it is flying:

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim

Imagery

Imagery: visually symbolic images.

Natural imagery is frequent in 'A Bird, came down the Walk', as it is the core theme of the poem. Dickinson uses figurative language such as similes to describe the path the bird takes as it eats, drinks and, ultimately, flies away after spotting the speaker. The imagery of nature is important in this poem, as it highlights the careful balance of danger and harmony that exists in nature.

Simile: when one object is compared to another, typically using the word 'like' or 'as'

Similes are used throughout the poem to create a visual representation of the mannerisms of the bird. Many of the similes in 'A Bird, came down the Walk' are found in the last two stanzas of the poem, as the speaker attempts to describe the way the bird flies away.

And rowed him softer Home –
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim

In particular, the simile 'Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, / Leap, plashless as they swim' demonstrates how the speaker finds the way the bird flies beautiful, as she compares it to the fluid motion of a ship sailing across calm waters. Similes are used to show the peacefulness that can exist in nature, even following the brutality of an animal eating and then rapidly fleeing away.

Did You Know? 'Plashless' means 'without splashing'!

Alliteration

Alliteration: the repetition of the same letter or sound at the start of words that are adjacent or close together.

Alliteration is used throughout 'A Bird, came down the Walk' to create sounds that mimic the nature the poet is describing. This is seen following the bird's departure, when the speaker compares the flight of the bird to the ocean:

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,

In the first line, the letter 'o' is repeated in 'Oars' and 'Ocean', and in the second line the letter 's' is repeated in the words 'silver' and 'seam'. Repetition here is used to create a harmony that contrasts with the tense moment in the stanza above (when the speaker frightens the bird away).

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition: a figurative device that contrasts two objects.

Dickinson uses juxtaposition to show the danger that exists in the natural world. In the first stanza, the poet describes an incident where the bird can be viewed as a predator as it kills the worm:

He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

The worm is described as being eaten raw in two halves, demonstrating the brutality of the act the bird has committed. Here, the bird is being portrayed as a predator, something that is juxtaposed against the description of the bird later in the poem, when it is approached by the speaker:

I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,

The speaker's presence frightens the bird, who flees when it is made aware of her company. The bird's sudden departure shows that it is vulnerable here, as it is the prey when compared to a human. Dickinson uses this juxtaposition to show the brutality of nature, but also how suddenly things in nature can change.

Tone

The speaker in 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is fascinated by the behaviour of the bird, and this is reflected in the tone of the poem. There is a tone of curiosity and awe throughout the poem as the speaker observes the bird within nature.

Speaker

The speaker in 'A Bird came down the Walk' is focused on observing the bird that is in front of her. The bird allows her to think about nature as a whole, and she does this through the use of personification throughout the poem. The bird is an important figure in the poem due to the effect that it has on the speaker. The speaker personifies the bird to show the connection that she feels towards the animal. When she mentions its 'frightened eyes' in the third stanza, it is clear that the speaker identifies with the animal and feels empathy for it.

Themes

Nature

A key theme of 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is the importance and power of nature. The speaker is fascinated by the bird's behaviour and uses personification throughout the poem to explore the power of nature and what she feels it means. Dickinson uses the juxtaposition of the bird eating the worm contrasted against the bird fleeing when the speaker approaches to show the delicate balance of nature, where one can be both predator and prey at the same time. In doing so, Dickinson explores the simultaneous conditions of danger and peacefulness that are evoked by nature.

A Bird, came down the Walk - Key takeaways

  • 'A Bird, came down the Walk' was written by Emily Dickinson and published in 1891.
  • The poem consists of five quatrains.
  • It centres around the theme of nature and its simultaneous beauty and brutality.
  • There is an ABCB rhyme scheme.
  • The poem uses alliteration, juxtaposition, and similes.

A Bird came down the Walk

The figure of the bird in 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is used to symbolise nature and the careful balance of danger and harmony that exists in it.  

Similes such as 'Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, / Leap, plashless as they swim' are used by the speaker to show that she finds the movements of the bird beautiful as she compares it to the fluid motion of a ship's path across calm waters.

Literary devices such as alliteration, juxtaposition, similes, personification, and imagery are all used in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'.

In 'A Bird, came down the Walk-'. Emily Dickinson describes the bird using similes and personification. For example she describes it eyes as 'frightened Beads' and its flight as 'And he unrolled his feathers, / And rowed him softer Home -'.

In summary, 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is about an encounter that the speaker has with a bird. She silently observes the bird walking, eating, and drinking. However, when she offers it food, the bird flies away.

Final A Bird came down the Walk Quiz

Question

Who wrote 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Emily Dickinson

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Question

What year was 'A Bird, came down the Walk' published in?

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Answer

1891

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Question

True or false: 'A Bird. came down the Walk' was published during Emily Dickinson's life.

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Answer

False! 'A Bird. came down the Walk' was not published during Emily Dickinson's life. 

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Question

How many stanzas are in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

5

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How many lines are in each stanza of 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

4

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Question

What is the central theme of 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Nature

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Question

What two animals does the bird interact with in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Beetle

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What animal does the speaker compare the bird to?

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Answer

Butterfly

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

ABCB

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Does 'A Bird, came down the Walk' feature slant rhymes?

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Answer

Yes! 'A Bird, came down the Walk' does feature slant rhymes. 

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Are there dashes in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Yes! Dickinson does uses dashes in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'.

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Question

True or false: 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is a limerick. 

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Answer

False! 'A Bird, came down the Walk' is not a limerick.

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What is the tone in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Curious

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Question

Is there enjambment in 'A Bird, came down the Walk'?

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Answer

Yes! There is enjambment in 'A Bird, came down the Walk',

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Question

What two meters is 'A Bird, came down the Walk'  written in?

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Answer

Iambic Tetrameter

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