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What are some themes for the poem "A Bird Came Down a Walk" by Emily Dickinson?

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dorrylou33 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 26, 2010 at 5:10 PM via web

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What are some themes for the poem "A Bird Came Down a Walk" by Emily Dickinson?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 26, 2010 at 8:47 PM (Answer #1)

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"A Bird Came Down a Walk" by Emily Dickinson reveals both the danger and beauty of the outer, natural world and the inner, self-conscious world of both the bird and the speaker.

In most poetry, especially Romantic, humankind finds peace in nature; it is a welcoming mother.  Here, in Dickinson, both the bird and the speaker feel "cautious" in it, out of place, afraid.  Nature, for Dickinson, is insensate (lacking compassion), a place of danger.

The bird is personified like a human, and the speaker is characterized a little like a bird (anthropomorphism).  The line "Like one in danger; cautious," comes between them: at the end of the description of the bird ("He stirred his velvet head") and at the beginning of the action of the speaker ("I offered him a crumb,").  So who does it describe?  Who is in danger and, therefore, cautious?  The bird?  The speaker?  Or both?

For more on this, you can't beat Enotes:

“Cautious” describes both the demeanor of the bird and that of the observing narrator. Both feel threatened, the bird of the possible consequences of its savagery, the narrator because she is next on the bird's path. She “offered him a Crumb,” not because she admires the bird but out of fear and expediency. The bird, sensing that it has escaped any potentially harmful consequences for what it has done, struts a bit as “he unrolled his feathers” and “rowed him softer home—.” Ironically, its walk is too casual, softer than oars dividing a seamless ocean or butterflies leaping into noon's banks, all without a splash. Behind its soft, charming, and genteel facade, nature is menacing, and its hypocritical attempts to conceal its barbarism make it more frightening.

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