But never met this Fellow Attended or alone Without a tighter Breathing
We're back to that "Fellow," the snake.
The speaker, by himself or in company, is deeply affected when he comes across this snake, and not in a good way (unless you enjoy having shortness of breath).
Now, we should recognize that there is a school of thought that does, in fact, see this in a kind-of-positive light. In other words, some folks see this encounter with the snake as highly symbolic of sexual intercourse.
The snake might be indeed be a symbol of the male anatomy, we agree. If that is what Dickinson intended, then it’s not that hard to see this tighter breathing as that feeling of a pounding heart and quick breathing that you feel when you meet a gorgeous stud or babe. Right?
That's the great thing about poetry, though, since it's open to interpretation, as all art is. Often, what we take from a poem says more about us than it does about the poem. So, if you want to see this breathing as a sign of sexual excitement, more power to you! We even cover this available reading in "Themes: Sex."
Still, we do think there are other ways to look at these lines. The shortness of breath seems to be particularly negative in one sense, if you follow up with the next line…
And Zero at the Bone.
This is one of the most famous lines in Dickinson's poetry, maybe in all poetry.
It's famous because, well, nobody really knows exactly what the Sam Hill it means.
We can guess that "zero," being nothing, represents a kind of emptiness, and to feel that "at the Bone," might suggest a deep disturbance.
This interpretation is supported by the "But" back in line 21. The speaker was telling us about how he really loved all the animals, but… then we get the final lines. In other words, "Animals are great and all, but this snake gives me the heebie-jeebies"—only it seems to be more profound than a passing chill. There seems to be something about this snake that shakes our speaker to the core.
What could it be? Well, that's a question that critics have wrestled with for decades. You know what? We're in the mood for some exercise! Check out the rest of this module—particularly "Themes" and "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay"—to see how we put this question in a headlock and try to get some answers.