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A narrow Fellow in the Grass

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English Literature

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' is a poem written by Emily Dickinson and published in 1866. The poem uses distinctive figurative language and literary devices to discuss the themes of the unknown and nature.

Published In 1866
Written By Emily Dickinson
Form No Set Form
StructureSix Quatrains
MeterCommon Meter and Iambic Trimeter
Rhyme SchemeABCB
Poetic DevicesAlliterationJuxtapositionPersonification
Frequently Noted ImageryNature
Key ThemesFearNature
ToneFearful, cautionary, anxious
MeaningThe speaker's childhood encounter with a snake causes him to fear the animal later in life.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: context

Let's discuss the background of the poem and its author.

Biographical context

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' was written by Emily Dickinson in 1865 and was one of the few poems published during her lifetime. By 1865, Dickinson (then aged 35) had become a recluse and spent much of her time in her family home. The poem was published in 1866 in the Springfield Republican (a newspaper local to Dickinson) with a series of changes made, including titling the poem 'The Snake'.

Historical context

Emily Dickinson's family were Calvinists (a denomination of Christian Protestantism) and she was raised during the Second Great Awakening. This was a movement that occurred throughout early nineteenth-century America and centred on a Protestant revival. Although Emily Dickinson herself would ultimately reject religion, its effects are still present in her poetry. Snakes have a Biblical association as it is the form the devil took when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. As this is a central moment in the Bible, it may have influenced Dickinson's views on deceit and how it is represented.

Literary context

At the time Emily Dickinson composed 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass', Romantic literature had begun to gain traction in America. The American version of Romanticism emphasised the power of nature and the universe, as well as the importance of individuality. Dickinson, alongside her contemporaries, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, were key figures in this movement. During this period, Dickinson focused on the impact that nature can have on the mind, and this is seen in her poem 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'. Dickinson uses Romanticism to play with the image of the snake presented in the Bible, as the animal comes to personify human deception.

Emily Dickinson's A narrow Fellow in the Grass

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant 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 -
But when a Boy and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon
Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping 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.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: summary

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' focuses on a speaker who is recollecting the experience they had when they saw a snake as a child. The poem is used to further describe both the danger of nature and provide a commentary on deceit and fear.

Stanza one

In the first stanza, the speaker mentions a slight creature in the grass. The speaker then asks the reader if they have seen it as the creature tends to take people by surprise.

Stanza two

The second stanza focuses on the physical appearance of the creature. The speaker states that its body parts the grass like a comb parts hair. This allows for a quick glance at a long spotted shape before it disappears into the grass again.

Stanza three

The third stanza discusses the environment the creature lives in. The speaker says that the creature likes hard-to-find places such as bogs or barn floors; however, when he was a boy he saw the animal in broad daylight.

Stanza four

The fourth stanza focuses on the speaker's childhood encounter with the animal. He says that he first thought he was walking by an old piece of a whip, but when he tried to pick it up, it wriggled and disappeared.

Stanza five

In the fifth stanza, the speaker states that he is familiar with many animals and is friendly with a lot of them.

Stanza six

The final stanza continues the idea of the fifth, as the speaker continues to say that he has never had an encounter with this animal where he has not been scared.

Although the animal is not mentioned explicitly in the poem can you guess what it is?

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: structure

There are six stanzas in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'. Each stanza is comprised of four lines - this is called a quatrain.

Form

While there is no set form to this poem (such as a sonnet or ode), there are many traits in the poem that are common in much of Dickinson's poetry. The poem features quatrains of common meter and is written with an ABCB rhyme scheme - two elements that are found in many of her poetry.

Rhyme and meter

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' uses an ABCB rhyme scheme throughout the poem, where many of the 'B' rhymes are slanted.

Slant Rhyme - words that rhyme imperfectly together.

For example, 'rides' is a slant rhyme with the word 'is'. The lack of pure rhyme in the beginning of the poem signifies the unease the speaker feels around the snake.

A narrow Fellow in the GrassOccasionally rides -You may have met him? Did you notHis notice instant is - "

The poem's only pure (or perfect) rhymes occur in the last two stanzas, for example in the last stanza where 'mee' rhymes with 'Cordiality'.

Several of Nature’s PeopleI know, and they know meI feel for them a transportOf Cordiality"

The presence of pure rhyme here shows how the speaker feels more calm when he refers to other animals.

Common Meter - A metrical pattern where stanzas consist of four lines, alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. It is commonly found in Christian hymns.

The poet uses the common meter (lines alternate between eight and six syllables and are always written in an iambic pattern) for the first two stanzas of the poem. Common meter is frequently seen in both Romantic poetry and Christian hymns.

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

Dickinson then changes this meter following the second stanza. From the third stanza until the sixth, the poem is written in solely iambic trimester instead.

Iambic Trimeter - A line of poetry that consists of three metrical feet that are comprised of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Many of these lines end with an extra unstressed syllable (known as a feminine ending).

Have passed I thought a Whip LashUnbraiding in the SunWhen stooping to secure itIt wrinkled And was gone -"

The use of a feminine ending in the poem helps represent the breathlessness the speaker feels when the snake scares him. It can also be used to replicate the constricting method of killing some snakes use on their prey, as the meter also leaves the reader without breath.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: literary devices

What literary devices are used in this poem?

Alliteration

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

Throughout 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass', alliteration is used to mimic the movements of the snake. The repetition of the same letter creates a flow throughout the poem that replicates how the snake looks when it travels in the grass.

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

In the third stanza, there is a repetition of the letter 'c' with the words 'cool' and 'Corn' to create a smooth flow of words in the line. This is contrasted with the repetition of 'b' with 'Boy' and 'Barefoot' as this is more plosive and so does not flow as quickly as the previous alliteration. Dickinson does this to compare how the snake moves against how the human boy moves.

Personification

Personification - A method in figurative language where a non-human object or animal is given human characteristics.

Personification is seen throughout 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass', as the snake is imagined as a 'Fellow'.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is -

The personification of the snake has a specific Biblical allusion, as it can reference the Garden of Eden, where the devil disguised himself as a snake to tempt Eve to sin. The use of personification in this Biblical allusion allows Dickinson to make a comment on deceit that can be used in order to pose danger.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition - A figurative device that contrasts two objects or ideas.

Dickinson uses juxtaposition to convey how the speaker feels about snakes when compared to other animals.

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."

In the fifth stanza, the speaker states that he has affection for other animals he has interacted with; this is juxtaposed with his description of how he feels when he sees a snake. This is done to show the duality of nature, and that the speaker does not feel that all animals are a threat to him. Dickinson achieves this by making a clear distinction between the 'I' and 'they' (the animals the speaker likes) in stanza five vs 'this Fellow' (the snake) in stanza six. The most obvious distance is made between the stanza break. But Dickinson furthers the distance between friendly nature and the dangerous snake through her use of pronouns. The fifth stanza interchanges the pronouns 'I' and 'them', and 'they', to show that the speaker is deeply connected to the animal world. The speaker's feeling of peace with these animals is furthered through the rhyme of 'me' and cordiality'. When the speaker focuses on the snake in the final stanza, these personal pronouns are then absent, showing the distance the speaker is putting between himself and the creature.

Dashes and caesuras

Caesura - When there is a break in a line of a metrical foot. Typically this is achieved through punctuation.

One of the most recognisable features of Emily Dickinson's poetry is her use of dashes. Dickinson uses dashes to create caesuras in the lines of poetry and also to add pauses to the end of some lines. In 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass', dashes are used to mimic the pattern that the snake cuts in the grass. Here, the pauses represent the moments that the snake travels and disappears.

Enjambement

Enjambement - When one line of poetry continues into the next line without a pause

Dickinson contrasts her use of dashes and caesuras with her use of enjambment. Here, enjambement is used to replicate the body of a snake, as one line flows into the next in a similar way to how a snake's body moves across the ground.

Speaker

The speaker in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' is describing a snake and the fear that the animal brings him. After a tense encounter with a snake as a child, the speaker is now attempting to convey to the readers a description of the animal and why it scares him.

Tone

The speaker's childhood interaction with the snake shapes how tone is used in the poem. The snake scared the speaker as a child and this fear continues into adulthood; for this reason, the tone of the poem is anxious and fearful, as the speaker looks at the snake with both awe and caution.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: figurative language & imagery

Let's look at some of the figurative language in the poem.

Natural imagery

Imagery - Visually descriptive or figurative language.

In 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' natural imagery is used to both describe the snake as well as describe how the snake can be a representation of deceit and fear. Dickinson uses the imagery of nature to depict how the speaker views the snake and its movements. This imagery helps the reader to understand how the speaker sees the animal.

The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on - "

Whips

Dickinson also uses the imagery of a whip to describe the danger that the snake poses. The way the snake moves is similar to the cracking of a whip and this movement frightens the speaker. The imagery of a whip implies violence and so is used to convey the threat that the snake holds and why the speaker fears it.

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash

Unbraiding in the Sun

When stooping to secure it

It wrinkled And was gone - "

A narrow Fellow in the Grass: themes

What themes are portrayed in the poem?

Fear

Fear is the central theme of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' as the speaker attempts to explain why he fears snakes. However, the poem extends beyond just snakes into a wider discussion of fear and its link to disguise. Dickinson uses personification and metaphors to describe the snake as being something it is not. This is coupled with the fact that the word 'snake' is not mentioned at all in the poem. Perhaps this implies that while the snake is disguised, it still can cause fear in the speaker.

Nature

Dickinson uses 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' to explore how nature can be both peaceful and friendly while also posing a threat to people. The speaker establishes that he has affection for other animals, showing that nature can be kind and peaceful. However, this is contrasted with the way the speaker feels fear towards the snake. This juxtaposition shows the duality that exists within nature, and why people should both love and fear it.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass - Key takeaways

  • The poem was written by Emily Dickinson and published in 1866.
  • It consists of six quatrains written in common metre and iambic trimeter.
  • There is an ABCB rhyme scheme throughout the poem.
  • The poem focuses on themes of nature and fear.
  • Dickinson uses alliteration, juxtaposition and personification.
  • The poem features a speaker reflecting on his childhood encounter with a snake.

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' was written in 1865 and published in 1866.

'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' follows the speaker as he recounts a childhood encounter he had with a snake. It can be argued that the snake is a symbol of deceit in the poem and this is what causes the speaker fear. 

The 'fellow' in the poem is a snake.

The rhyme scheme of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' is ABCB.

The line, 'When stooping to secure it' shows that the boy tries to catch the narrow fellow, however, the following like 'It wrinkled And was gone -' shows that he was unsuccessful. 

Final A narrow Fellow in the Grass Quiz

Question

Who wrote 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'?

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Answer

Emily Dickinson

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Question

When was 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' published?

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Answer

1866

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Question

True or False - 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' was published after Emily Dickinson died.

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Answer

False! 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' was published during Emily Dickinson's life.

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Question

How many stanzas are in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

6

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Question

How many lines are in each stanza of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

There are four lines in each stanza of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass', this is called a quatrain.

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

ABCB

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Question

What meter is used in the first two stanzas of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

Common Meter

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Question

What meter is used for the final four stanzas of 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

Iambic Trimeter

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Question

What animal is the 'fellow' in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

A snake

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Question

What two themes are discussed in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

Fear

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What is personified in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

The snake

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Question

What is the tone in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

Fearful

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Question

What are two pieces of imagery found in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'?

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Answer

Whips

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Question

Is there a juxtaposition in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'? 

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Answer

Yes! There is a juxtaposition in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'

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Question

Is there alliteration in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'?

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Answer

Yes! There is alliteration in 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass'

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