Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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A Bird, came down the Walk—

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Emily Dickinson's poem "A Bird, came down the Walk—."

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | A Bird, came down the Walk-- | Summary

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Summary

The meter of this five-stanza poem differs somewhat from Dickinson's usual ballad meter. In the first three stanzas, the first line has only six syllables instead of the usual eight. Only the third lines of the stanzas, except the fourth, have the full eight syllables. The rhyme in the first two stanzas is the typical ABCB pattern of most of her poetry, but the second and fourth lines of the third stanza do not rhyme at all, and the fourth and fifth stanzas feature slant rhyme.

In this narrative of the speaker's encounter with a bird, she sees him first savagely bite a worm in halves before eating it, drink dew from a blade of grass, and then politely hop to the side "To let a Beetle pass." The bird's eyes then glance around nervously, and the speaker offers him a crumb. At this point, apparently frightened, the bird takes off, moving smoothly, with grace and beauty, through the air.

Analysis

This poem provides examples both of Dickinson's love of nature and her clear-eyed, unromantic, and sometimes clinical way of presenting it. The bird described is at once savage and genteel, frightened and unspeakably beautiful. Because the bird is unaware of the speaker's presence—"He did not know I saw"—the reader has the sense the description presented is authentic. The shortness of the first line of each stanza gives it a clipped feeling, as if one who is watching in secret were keeping her comments short.

The bird at first seems cruel and bloody, biting the angleworm in half and eating it "raw," which is a perfect example of Dickinson's predilection for reporting accurately what she sees. Although she loves nature, she does not romanticize the bird's actions. In the second stanza he graciously makes way for a beetle. And in the third stanza, this terror of the angleworm becomes frightened himself, as Dickinson accurately describes the movement of the bird's beady eyes.

There is even a comic moment in the fourth stanza, depending on how one reads the first line. If one reads it as the continuation of the thought at the end of the third stanza, then it becomes "He stirred his Velvet Head / Like one in danger, Cautious" indicating the bird is cautious. But one might also read the first line of the fourth stanza as beginning a new thought, in which case the speaker seems to suggest she is in danger of the bird: "Like one in danger, Cautious, / I offered him a Crumb."

Finally, as the bird takes off, the speaker becomes lyrical in describing his graceful movements. The flapping of his wings is soft, gentle, and subtle, causing as little disturbance to the sky as "Oars divide the ocean," too smooth and silvery to admit "a seam" caused by a rowing boat. Further the bird's movements are as smooth as those of butterflies, which cause no splashes when they swim off the "Banks of Noon," as if noon were a river. Dickinson's comparisons make the bird seem almost otherworldly.

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