Analyze Emily Dickinson's poem, number 348: "I dreaded that first robin so."

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karythcara's profile pic

Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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This iambic lyric poem tells of her personal experience with the dread of the approach of spring "that first robin." It is resolved with her reluctant acknowledgement that all the parade of spring did come and--now--must leave her alone again. The theme is a self-pitying one of a fear of loss that governs her acceptance of beauty.

Each one salutes me, as he goes,
And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums—

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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 As are many of Dickinson's poems, "I dreaded that first Robin, so--" is essentially an elegy centered on the tension between life, as represented by nature, and death, as represented by the speaker, who describes herself explicitly in the sixth stanza

They're here, though; not a creature failedl
No Blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me—
The Queen of Calvary—

The speaker, who, as the Queen of Calvary, is no longer a part of the living nature represented by birds and bees "and their unthinking drums" is at rest, wrapped in solitude and silence.  The overt Christian reference (Queen of Calvary) is unusual for Dickinson but clearly places the speaker in the ground.

That the speaker initially wishes to be left in silence is clear from her fear of the robin whose song "hurts a little" but over time "I'm accustomed to Him grown," that is, as the robin grows during the Spring, the speaker is able to tolerate the birdsong.  But in addition to dreading nature's song, the speaker fears also nature's color, represented by the daffodils:

I dared not meet the Daffodils—
For fear their Yellow Gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own—

The speaker's fear of the piercing "Yellow Gown," which will cover her with nature's exuberant color "so foreign to my own," makes it clear that she is no longer part of the living world--her color is that of the grave and vibrant colors are not appropriate to her condition.

The speaker's inability to tolerate nature is especially clear in her reaction to bees, one of the most powerful symbols of nature's ability to create more nature:

I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they'd stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?

Just as the speaker fears the "fashion" of the daffodils, she cannot stand the hum of the bees as they arrive, and she emphatically states that nothing they can say has any meaning for her--in other words, in her state, the sounds of life, like the colors of life, have no relevance to her.  Her comment that the bees should stay in the "dim countries where they go" indicates that she has irrevocably forgotten what she may once have known about the living world.

Typical of Dickinson's ambivalence about death and the afterlife, the poem's final stanza sets forth her gentle reluctance, despite her fears, to see the living depart:

And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums

Even though she clearly is uncomfortable with the sights and sounds of living nature--which contrasts with her somber condition--she seems to have sufficient attachment still to the living to lift her "childish Plumes" (what is left of "living" nature that has yet to assimilate her death) to say farewell to nature, which is oblivious to the speaker's condition.

 

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