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A narrow Fellow in the Grass

A narrow Fellow in the Grass


by Emily Dickinson

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -

  • Okay! Off we go. Let's see…well, your guess is as good as ours as to who this fellow is. We get just a few details about him: he's narrow, he's in the grass, and occasionally he takes rides. 
  • Hmm! Well, since he’s narrow and riding "in the Grass," we'll assume that were talking about a snake. Hey! Look at us. Riddle #1: solved.
  • But let’s not get too settled on that whole snake thing, because it’s shaping up to be a weird poem. 
  • For example, this snake is called a "Fellow" who "rides." Rides what? Do they make little bikes for snakes? He's being treated more like a human than an animal so far. That, folks, is called personification. We wonder if this treatment will hold up through the rest of the poem…

Lines 3-4

You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is -

  • The speaker is asking us directly if we have met the snake. It's like he (or she) wants to verify their experience by checking with us first. 
  • “Did you not” just seems to be hanging out there after the question mark.
  • You’d think the question mark would come at the end of the line: “You may have met him. Did you not?” But it turns out that when the poem was first published, Dickinson’s sister-in-law or the publisher took it upon themselves to put the question mark at the end (See “In a Nutshell” for that story and hurry back!).
  • “His notice instant is” is also vague, mainly because of the twisted syntax. But this isn't just an exercise in Yoda-speak. This line is purposefully worded in such a way that you just can’t be sure if he notices you instantly or if you notice him instantly.
  • This is a double whammy in a way: both meanings, at the same time, suggest that the snake and the person scare each other in one simultaneous moment.
  • Yikes!

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