“I dreaded that first Robin, so,” – Emily Dickinson
This poem was written in circa 1862, when Emily Dickinson’s production of
poems was at its apex. By this time her lifestyle had changed and there
are suggestions that she had been affected…
- perhaps a suggestion of rejection
- a spiritual or religious rejection
…as a result, Dickinson became a withdrawn person, somewhat of a recluse.
Clearly, as the “Queen of Calvary” (Calvary being the mountain on which
Christ was crucified, suggesting extreme suffering – an embodiment of
torment) she found aspects of life painful and difficult, I ask you to
question whether in this poem, she finds confronting the boldness and
audacity of nature a painful experience. Although there are many
suggestions of her losing her virginity, the imagery is transparent, and
can be interpreted in many ways.
Some possible readings of the poem…
- A quiet, socially withdrawn hermit suddenly confronted by the richness,
the profusion, the unruliness of nature. Something which, at this time in
her life, was completely opposite to her, she felt threatened and
challenged by it.
- The “Robin” which she so dreads, could symbolise the change from winter
to spring, its rich red breast and urge to survive emphasises for
Dickinson, the richness of life. It evokes in her, anxiety.
- “But he is mastered now” – Dickinson has become used to the sight of the
Robin, it is a common sight in spring and she knows that she has to adapt.
She is “some accustomed” but still feels somewhat uncomfortable in its
- “Till that first Shout got by” – could be an image of / a reference to
birdsong. In contrast with the winter, the birdsong of spring is
significantly much louder, also, take into account that she lived in rural
Massachusetts, in spring, the birds would flock in by the thousands.
Perhaps the apparent happiness of the birdsong depresses her. Furthermore,