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Emily Dickenson’s Treatment Of Nature With Reference To “A Narrow Fellow In The Grass” Essay, Research Paper

Emily Dickinson

A century ago only a few recognized Wordworth as a discoverer of a new vein of poetry. Most people considered his philosophical poems obscure and his nature poems ?low?. Today we can?t imagine a time when nature was considered to be beneath a poet?s notice. But when Emily Dickinson started her writing of nature poems, it was a journey into a dark continent .

One-fifth of all her works can be classified as ?Nature Poetry?. Her experience of it was in and around Amherst, Massachusetts. She lived in a house ?that might be called a mansion?(Whicher). It had a barn and a carriage shed, large surrounding grounds with flower beds, a vegetable patch and many fruit trees with pretty names like Bell-Flower. The Amherst of Emily?s days was a ?tiny cluster?(Whicher) of houses and farms set amongst beautiful wooded hill. Rev. Timothy Dwight declared ?a handsomer piece of ground is rarely seen; more elegant slopes, never?? It was one of the most impressive landscapes America had to offer. ?This she saw, observed, [and] loved, with a burning simplicity??(Conrad Aiken) .

Emily regarded nature with reverence.

Several of Nature?s People

I know, and they know me ?

I feel for them a transport

Of cordiality ?

It was the ultimate manifestation of the Divine, an unconscious Puritan conception. Her letters intimate a love for frolicking in the woods of which her family did not approve. So, she was led to believe that it was fraught with hidden dangers like the venomous snake, poisonous flowers and no-good goblins, but she persisted in her adventures and met only ?angels? who were shyer of her than she of them.

But her love for nature was not without reservation. She had developed a ?shrewd suspicion?(Whicher) that nature was in essence very alien to man and fascinatingly unknowable. She stated this in ?What mystery pervades a well!? ?

But Nature is a stranger yet;?

To pity those who know her not

Is helped by the regret

That those who know her, know her less

The nearer her they get.

Nature was something to be ?accepted, studied, enjoyed?(Whicher) and copied with humility. She could not think of adding anything to it. Her attitude towards it was that of an artist and not a philosopher. She watched the ever-changing face of nature carefully, memorizing its subtleties and rendered it as best she could. And what we get, in the words of Richard Wilbur, are ?mortal objects? ?riddled by desire to the point of transparency?. To illustrate, she caught one of God?s most uncatchable creatures, the hummingbird, in an image ?as firm and impervious as a figure in enamel? and completed it not as a bird but as a tumble of blossoms and resonance of colour. And she caught the shyest of God?s creatures, the snake, in an image as tangible as ?a spotted shaft?, developed it to the sensation of grass dividing at our feet and completed it not as a snake but as a numbing fear.

Emily?s peculiar failing was her total inability to reason about the world. To Higginson, whom she sought for advise regarding her verse, she wrote that she had no education. By education what she meant, and what Higginson understood, was a lack of formal training in the cultivation of abstractions. Therefore she did not reason about the world she saw, ?she merely saw it? .

Her obscurity is often mistaken for intellectualism. There is no implicit idea in her poems; neither is there ?formal feeling? . There is only a focus on experience which touches on both in a unique manner. And this she portrays through what was familiar to her ? the objects of her household.

?A narrow fellow in the grass?; we are not told who he is. We might have made his acquaintance or not, but it usually is sudden. The grass will divide at our feet, as if with a comb, and we will see ?a spotted shaft?, but before we can react it closes again and divides further on. This is a simple narration of an experience. The feeling of shock and the casual appearance of the snake are only implied.

Archibald MacLeish describes her as a child already in the midst of an adventure before she begins to narrate it. She speaks to us spontaneously. We never feel her assume a literary ?posture?(MacLeish).There is no formal choice of subject nor the conscious development of a theme. She speaks to us and we are in the middle of the poem, unable to stop reading because she speaks directly to us. ??words born living on the tongue, written as though spoken??(MacLeish).

Emily, however much she was against it, was unconsciously influenced by her age which coincided with the height of the Romantic Movement . She consciously cultivated fresh perceptions. She celebrated the self. She praised nature, She indulged without hesitation in fancy. Her sensibility had a distinct Romantic strain, though she broke free from convention.

The subject of all poetry is human experience. And when we read Emily?s poems they seem to intimate detail about her life ? a coded autobiography of a kind. The fact that she purposely chose the voice of a boy in the poem for study is very suggestive ? a forbidden venture, an encounter with a snake, the fear. Allen Tate suggests that she is very similar to Donne in this respect. They strove for personal revelation in their poetry in an effort to understand their relation to the world. This is perhaps the hidden motive of all writing.

Coded autobiography or not, her poems speak to the reader at every level. She demanded reader involvement and that is perhaps why her poems have been described as ?actualized experience?(Allen Tate). From the start we are given a poem which is a cryptic riddle, the answer to which is in the way the poem lies on our page ? in short line stanzas, long and narrow like a snake. In an age where poetry did not favour the use of intelligence, Emily Dickinson came as a fresh change.

Critics did acknowledge her originality, but labelled her an undisciplined amateur. Her seemingly ?unpatterned verse? is really only an illusion, for on analysis of ?a narrow fellow in the grass? we find that it is in one of the principal iambic meters, eights and sixes or the common meter. Her greatest contribution to English poetry was therefore, how to gain new effects within traditional meters.

Though in her times her meters were relatively tolerable to the critics, her rhyme schemes weren?t. she added to the conventional exact rhyme and eye rhyme the following: a) identical rhymes ? eg: His-is; b) vowel rhymes ? eg: narrow-fellow; c) imperfect rhymes ? eg: seen-feet (ie where the identical vowel sound is followed by a different consonant sound); and d) suspended rhymes ? eg: sun-gone (ie where different vowel sounds are followed by identical consonant sounds)

But inspite of all her innovations, Emily still felt the infinity of thought and the finiteness of expression. Her constant practice of compiling a thesaurus of word choices in a single line indicates that she was very well aware of the impact of choosing the right word. She even wrote a poem about the choice of words.

?Shall I take thee?? the poet said

To the propounded word.

?Be stationed with the candidates

Till I have further tried.?

The poet probed philology

And when about to ring

For the suspended candidate,

There came unsummoned in

That portion of the vision

The word applied to fill.

Not unto nomination

The cherubim reveal.

The ambiguity of language is obvious. A word, no matter how simple, stimulates an entire ?circumference? of meaning which is inseparable from it because of its ?intimate relationship? with human minds and their souls. This explains Emily?s method ? a series of ?staccato? images rather than the development of one whole picture.

To enhance conciseness, which she felt was necessary or else her thoughts became rigid and all alike when ?clothed? in words, she created a ?shorthand?(Thackeray) system. It was the combination of the correct word and what we might consider to be unusual punctuation.

Emily punctuated with dashes. It gave the verse a voice because it implied all the things left unsaid. She assumed the reader would know that the dash at the end of the poem for study dramatizes that feeling of absolute nullity when one encounters a snake. She also assumed that the reader understood that the dashes in the second stanza perform the function of elisions as if to say that the appearance of the snake and its disappearance leaves very little time to react. Austin Warren felt that it it was almost equivalent to phrasing marks in music, accenting her poetry, guiding the reader in his reading.

Emily Dickinson gives us in her poetry no abstract speculation, no message for society and no useful maxim; only experience. She was a ?voice?(MacLeish) speaking to every living creature about what every living creature knows?

Shabnam Bhattachrya



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